Monday, 6 February 2012

Sauli Niinistö elected President of Finland

Yesterday’s second round of Finland’s presidential election saw the conservative candidate Sauli Niinistö elected the country’s twelfth president with a comfortable majority. Niinistö won 62.6 % of the votes as opposed to 37.4 % for Pekka Haavisto of the Green Party. With more than 1.8 million votes Niiniströ received more votes than his predecessors since direct elections of president were introduced in 1994. Electoral participation was, however, record low at a mere 68.9 %.
The election result is something of a watershed as it means that the President of Finland will, for the first time since 1982, not be a Social Democrat, and that, unusually, the President and the Prime Minister will belong to the same party.
In the first round of the election, held on 22 January, Sauli Niinistö won 36.96 % of the votes, while Pekka Haavisto received 18.76 % of the votes and thus narrowly bypassed Paavo Värynen of the Centre Party (17.53 %) as the second candidate in the second round. The Social Democrat candidate, former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, received only 6.7 % of the votes.
Sauli Väinämö Niinistö, who was born on 24 August 1948, is a jurist by profession and was an MP 1987-2003 and 2007-2011. He served as leader of the Conservative party 1994-2001, was Minister of Justice 1995-1996 and Minister of Finance 1996-2003. He was his party’s candidate in the 2006 presidential election and gave the incumbent President, Tarja Halonen, tough competition, winning 48.2 % of the votes against Halonen’s 51.8 %. From 2007 till 2011 he served as Speaker of Parliament. He will be sworn in as President on 1 March, when Tarja Halonen’s second six-year term comes to an end.
Widowed in 1995, Niinistö remarried in 2009 to Jenni Haukio. The incoming First Lady of Finland is 34 years old, a poet and head of communication of the Conservative party.
The once significant powers of the President have been cut in recent years, most recently in October last year. The role of the President is now mostly ceremonial, but he or she retains a modest influence in foreign policy. The political scientist Ann-Cathrine Jungar wrote an interesting essay (external link) on the development of the presidential office in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet yesterday.
The photo shows the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.


  1. In my view, the term conservative without qualifications is quite misleading when applied to Niinistö or to his party. In actual fact, the clearly more conservative candidates Soini (reactionary populist conservatives), Essayah (religious conservatives) and Väyrynen (rural conservatives) were dropped already as result of the first round, and Mr Niinistö who remained, is certainly less conservative than any of them. Some evaluations mention Niinistö as even a liberal, and surely his party is moderate, if conservative then at least urban-style in its conservatism. He was conservative in this election only in the sense that he is somewhat less liberal than his final rival, Mr Haavisto. (Comparison to the situation in Sweden: in the old Folkpartiet Liberalerna there, inside the same party there were those of Folkpartiet and those who were Liberal. Niinistö is like those of Folkpartiet.) Sauli Niinistö should be described as moderate, if he is described as conservative of any stripe. Moderate conservative.

    Mr Haavisto is not really an environmentalist phanatic. Rather, he is a liberal in his values who has drifted to the Green Party which contains also a large element of non-socialist liberals (even cultural radicals) in Finland.

    This election turned out to the the Homo Election (Homovaali) of Finland in longer historical perspective. When all other features of the election are long forgotten, I think this will still be remembered as the Homovaali. For the first time in Finland, an openly gay candidate gathered a remarkable number of votes in all parts of Finland and from plenty of voters who have not earlier voted for any gay and maybe had never earlier even had a real possibility to vote for an openly gay person. As such, this election's second round opened an openly gay candidacy as a mainstream possibility in Finland, something it had not earlier generally ever been. Earlier gays who got elected, have been voted for by a limited minority of their electorate, in elections where several seats were assigned in proportional election. But now, there was ultimately only two candidates, and one of them was openly gay. The two men were at the focus of the campaingning, media, and interviews. All the electorate was now exposed to the gay possibility in real terms. It seems to have broken one glass ceiling in the Finnish society, even in provincial regions.

    Jungar's writing has several small mistakes or misleading expressions about some details. Her assessment should not be relied upon.

    This is the first time I hear that Frederick Charles of Hesse and Brabant, elected king of Finland, would have reigned under the name "Yrjö I" (George) and I am totally certain that this is incorrect. Nobody in any literature seems to agree with Jungar about this detail.
    In real history (as opposed to what Jungar appears to inhabit), there is no source about the definitive regnal name, but some draft documents of the protocol and diplomacy unit of the Senate do show that there was some intention to use that one of the king's two names which would sound more familiar in its Finnish rendition, i.e "Kaarle". Thusly he would have reigned as king Charles of Finland (the regnal ordinal may have been "I" but alternatively there could have been acceptable reasons to count several earlier Charleses as his predecessors as kings over Finland).


    1. I think it is safe to say that such nuances exist in most political parties. One Norwegian example could be the Centre Party, which forms part of the centre-left government, but whose deputy leader, Ola Borten Moe, is generally considered to be significantly to the right of its leader Liv Signe Navarsete.

      Yes, the "homosexual aspect" was one of the most interesting sides of this presidential election - perhaps particularly considering the incident about the True Finns, the war veterans and the homosexuals at the independence day ball last December.

      Jungar's claim that Friedrich Karl of Hesse would have reigned as Yrjö I was new to me too and I too doubt it (unless Jungar has found unknown material showing this to be the case). I know the oft-repeated "Väinö I" story is a myth, but Kaarle indeed seems to have been the most likely option.

      I guess he could have chosen Kaarle VI (if one counts Karl Knutsson as Kaarle I and Carl XII as Kaarle V), but I think it would have been more in keeping with how such things are generally done if one had started with Kaarle I after independence, given that Finland was not a realm of its own in the Swedish era. (But there are of course exceptions to this, like Carl XIII, Carl XIV Johan and Carl XV, who used those numerals in both Sweden and Norway although both were independent kingdoms in a personal union and the Norwegian numeral therefore should have been different).


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