19/12/2011 - Analysis - 1st round
On 22nd January next, on the third Sunday in January, as is customary, just over 4.4 million Finnish are being called to ballot to appoint the successor to Tarja Halonen, as President of the Republic. The outgoing head of State, elected for the first time on 6th February 2000, cannot stand again, since the Constitution does not allow the President of the Republic to hold office for more than two consecutive terms.
The presidential election is the most popular of votes in Finland. 300,000 people turn out for this election alone. On average turnout is around 80%, which is around 10 points over that normally recorded in the general elections. The Finnish like this election very much since it is much more personal than the general elections, in which they have to opt for a list of people and therefore more for a political party.
If no candidate wins the absolute majority on 22nd January, a second round will take place on 5th February.
According to Pekka Perttula, the editor in chief of the newspaper Suomenmaa
, the presidential election on 22nd January and 5th February will be a turning point, as it was in January 1982. In that year Mauno Koivisto (Social Democratic Party, SPD) won, and this marked the end of the Centre Party's predominance over Finnish political life; this was the start of a 30 year cycle of social democratic presidency (Martti Ahtisaari (SPD) succeeded Mauno Koivisto on 6th February 1994 as head of state and Tarja Halonen succeed Martti Ahtisaari on 6th February 2000).
Postal voting will take place for the first round between 11th and 17th January.
The Presidential Function
The Head of the Finnish State is elected for a six year term in office. Since 1994 the election takes place by direct universal suffrage on the third Sunday of January (this applies to the first round, the second takes place two weeks later) and the candidate elect takes office on the first day of the month following his election, (this year it will be 1st February, if he is elected in the first round or on 1st March if he is appointed on 5th February). If only one person stands for the presidential post the election does not take place and that candidate is elected as Head of State. The President of the Republic cannot hold office for more than two consecutive mandates. It is also traditional for him to hand in his card for the period of his mandate, if he is a member of a political party.
The candidates who must be Finnish born, can be appointed by a party or by a group rallying a minimum of 20,000 voters.
The Head of State is in charge of foreign policy and the country's defence (working with the government) and is the head of the armed forces. He has no power over the country's domestic affairs.
On 21st October last, the Eduskunta/Riksdag, the only chamber in Parliament, modified the powers of the president of the Republic. Hence the constitution now states that Finland is represented in the European Union by its Prime Minister. Moreover any differences arising between the Head of State and the head of Government will now be settled by Parliament. These changes will enter into force on 1st March next when the head of State, if elected in the second round, will succeed Tarja Halonen and enter office. These changes were approved by 118 MPs - 40 against (including two from the True Finns party - PS - and two MPs of the Left Alliance –VAS) and 40 abstentions. "We decided to reduce the President's power although the people want a strong president,
" declared Tarja Halonen after the Parliament's vote. Timo Soini, leader of the True Finns and Sauli Niinistö, the Conservative Assembly (KOK) candidate to the presidency, also said that the changes made to the constitution had affected the President's powers too much.
An increase in pay and the pension of the head of state was also agreed upon. The first, which until now was set at an annual 126,000 € after a 6 year term will rise to 160,000€ per year. His pension, which is set at 75,600€ (i.e. 60% of his pay) will rise to 96,000€. Two former heads of State are still alive: Mauno Koivisto and Martti Ahtisaari. The remuneration of the Head of State (just like his retirement pension) is not taxable.
Candidates to the Presidency of the Republic
8 people are officially standing for the supreme office:
– Sauli Niinistö, 63 the Conservative Assembly (KOK) candidate; a party he chaired from 1994-2004 and which in power at present. Former Minister of Justice (1995-1996) and Finance (1996-2003) and former leader of Parliament (2007-2011), he stood in the last presidential election on 15th and 29th January 2006, which he lost in the second round with 48.20% of the vote against Tarja Halonen (51.80% of the vote);
– Paavo Väyrynen, 65, is the Centre Party's candidate (KESK) which he chaired from 1980 to 1990. Candidate in the presidential election in 1988 and 1994 he was not re-elected as MP during the last elections on 17th April 2011;
– Paavo Lipponen, 70, the Social Democratic Party's candidate (SPD). The party's leader from 1993 to 2005, he was appointed Prime Minister in 1995 and governed until 2003. Leader of Parliament from 2003-2007, he then retired from political life;
– Timo Soini, 49, leader of the True Finns (PS), a party that made a real breakthrough in the last general elections on 17th April last in which it won 19% of the vote. Candidate in the last presidential election on 15th and 29th January 2006, Timo Soini won 3.40% of the vote in the first round;
– Pekka Haavisto, 53, the Green's candidate (VIHR). Former Environment Minister (1995-1999), he then worked for the UN. In 2005 he became the EU's representative in Sudan where he took part in the Darfur peace negotiations. Pekka Haavisto was re-elected as MP in the last general elections on 17th April after being absent from parliament for the last 12 years;
– Sari Essayah, 44, the Christian Democratic Party's candidate (SKL). World 10km race walking champion in 1993 and European champion in 1994; she has been MEP since 2009. She has chosen the slogan "One step ahead";
– Paavo Arhinmäki, 35, the Left Alliance candidate (VAS), of which he has been the chair since 2009. Present Culture and Sports Minister, he is the youngest candidate ever to have stood in the presidential election;
– Eva Biaudet, 50, the Swedish People's Party candidate (SFP); she represents the liberal wing of this party. Former Healthcare and Social Affairs Minister (1999-2000 and 2002-2003), she is the present ombudsman
for the minorities.
The main favourite in the presidential election, Sauli Niinistö, is facing opposition on two fronts: firstly the anti-European camp that comprises the populist Timo Soini and Centrist Paavo Väyrynen, then the left opposition, which is extensive but fragmented.
Extremely popular, the Conservative candidate has attracted a major electorate, which reaches well beyond his political party. "In party this can be explained by the fact that every Social Democratic, True Finn or Centrist voter says he is prepared to vote for Sauli Niinistö in the second round of voting and not in support of their party's candidate,
" analyses Erkki Karvonen, a political expert from the University of Tampere. He also attributes the conservative candidate's popularity to his personal qualities, his experience and his independence.
Paavo Väyrynen, who would like to be seen as the "president of all Finland
", was appointed as the Centre Party's candidate by 1000 delegates. The centrist distinguishes himself from his party, notably with regard to Europe, even though the party led by former Prime Minister (2010-2011) Mari Kiviniemi, is traditionally pro-European, it has changed positions since the general elections on 17th April on this. The centrist leader accused the other parties, notably the Social Democratic Party, of being afraid of the True Finns before the general election and of having adopted an anti-immigrant stance. She maintained the need for true cooperation between the Centre Party and the populist movement. Mari Kiviniemi, who refused to stand in the presidential election, repeats that the differences in opinion between the candidate and his party exist in all of the other parties, notably between Sauli Niinistö and the Conservative Assembly.
Timo Soini announced that he was standing in the presidential election on 24th September last. This decision was approved on 15th October during the True Finns party congress. Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament, the populist leader is not as popular however as his party. He has set himself the goal of reaching the second round at least.
Social Democrat Paavo Lipponen won the last primary election to be organised by his party to appoint its candidate in the presidential election on 13th September. He won 67% of the vote ahead of Tuula Haatainen, deputy Mayor of Helsinki, who won 22% of the vote, and MP Ilkka Kantola, who won 11%. 2,700 members of the Social Democratic Party took part in this primary i.e. 37.5% of the total membership.
Paavo Lipponen chose to focus his electoral campaign on the following themes: European cooperation, the defence of the Welfare State and justice.
The European Crisis at the heat of the electoral campaign
The euro zone and the debt in Europe have logically become the most important themes in the presidential electoral campaign.
Sauli Niinistö is critical of the budgetary solidarity between EU Member States. "We made the mistake in the 2000's of weakening the Stability Pact and then in 2010, when we helped Greece, whilst we should have left this up to the IMF,
" he declared. According to the conservative candidate only inflation will enable the countries in debt to settle their problem. He also maintains that banks that have been recapitalised should be nationalised in order to prevent taxpayers feeling that they have been cheated.
Paavo Väyrynen is demanding the ordered bankruptcy of Greece and believes that "Finland should quit the euro since it is in bad company.
" The centrist candidate believes that the euro zone is too big and says that Helsinki made a mistake by entering the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Paavo Väyrynen may attract some former Centre Party voters, who, disappointed by their party, opted for the True Finns in the last general election on 17th April 2011.
Timo Soini believes that Greece's departure from the euro zone is inevitable and that this will have a domino effect. "As soon as one State leaves the euro zone it will be followed by many others, like at a party when no one wants to leave but as soon as the first one does, it means that the party is over,
" he declared. The True Finns' leader says that Finland should maintain its right to self-determination and its position in the world. "In the USSR the NKVD (the People's Committee for Internal Affairs in the Soviet Union) decided everything. A pernicious idea is growing in Europe that only the European Central Bank (ECB) can settle the euro crisis,
" says Timo Soini, who added that the euro and the European Union are not eternal. The populist leader uses neighbouring Norway as a model, a country that does not belong to the EU and which has its own currency.
Conversely Paavo Lipponen is asking for greater discipline in terms of control over the States' finances of the EU. He supports greater European integration and a strengthening of parliamentary democracy. Finally he hopes that the Finnish Parliament will take part in European financial coordination.
On 5th December the newspaper Aamulehti
, published a poll that shows that 63% of the Finnish believe that the euro must absolutely be saved (81% of the members of the Conservative Assembly and two-thirds of the Centre Party's electorate but only 26% of True Finn members). More than four in ten (44%) say they support a monetary union that is limited to the States that "have managed their finances well
", one third are against this idea.
On 14th December the first TV debate in the presidential campaign took place in which eight candidates took part. The European debt crisis dominated the discussion. Timo Soini and Paavo Väyrynen said that the euro was going to disappear. Conservative Sauli Niinistö said however that he was confident, repeating that the crisis will be settled by inflation and an increase in the monetary supply. Likewise ecologist Pekka Haavisto said that the crisis will be settled thanks to the determination of Germany and France.
Finland's economic situation is also at the heart of the electoral campaign. After experiencing recession of 8.9% in 2009 the country recorded GDP growth of 3.6% in 2010, and this is due to lie at 2.8% this year. The budgetary deficit is below the 3% required by the EU's Stability and Growth Pact. Public debt totals around 50% of the GDP.
Finally, as is often the case, the issue of belonging to NATO is still a main topic of debate. The far left candidate Paavo Arhinmäki is standing as the anti-NATO candidate. Four other candidates are against Helsinki joining the organisation: Green candidate, Pekka Haavisto; Social Democrat Paavo Lipponen, Centrist Paavo Väyrynen and Conservative Sauli Niinistö. The latter, who regrets Finland's attitude which comprises using NATO as a scare tactic, wants a referendum on the issue.
According to the latest poll published on 15th December by the TV channel YLE, Sauli Niinistö is due to win 40% of the vote in the first round on 22nd January. The conservative candidate enjoys an easy lead over his rivals. Paavo Väyrynen is due to come second with 9% of the vote; Timo Soini is due to win 7%; Pekka Haavisto 6%, Paavo Lipponen 5%; Eva Biaudet and Paavo Arhinmäki 3% each and Sari Essayah 2%. We should note that the people interviewed, who declared that they still had not made their choice, has increased significantly over the last few weeks and now lies at 25%.
According to all polls Sauli Niinistö is due to win the second round easily on 5th February 2012.