Finland elects president

Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 6:02 | Posted in Election, Finland, Politics | 6 Comments
President Tarja HalonenThe Champion: President Tarja Halonen is clearly the frontrunner. Elected as the first female president of Finland in 2000, she is about to complete her term with a popularity of slightly above 50% in the opinion polls. Mr. Sauli NiinistöOpponent number 1: Sauli Niinistö, former leader of the Conservative Party, Vice President of the European Investment Bank is second in the polls with approximately 20 % Prime Minister Matti VanhanenOpponent number 2: Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, leader of the agrarian Center Party is closely behind Niinistö with slightly below 20% of the opinion poll.

The president of Finland is elected for a six year term and there is a limit of two consecutive terms for one person. Alas, one person can only be president for 12 years at a time and can only be re-elected once. Theoretically, a president who has served those two terms could be elected again six years later but that has never happened.

The term limits were imposed after the elderly president Urho Kekkonen (born 1900) served for quarter of a century from 1956 to 1981 and was eventually forced to resign due to old age senility. The constitution was gradually reformed to balance the constitutional powers of the president, the government and the parliament. The final edition of the constitution took effect for six years ago, the same day that president Halonen entered the office of the president.

In spite of the constitutional reform, the president still has a substantial amount of real power appointing a large number of senior officials and having an active roll in the foreign relations and security policy decisions. In 1994, the president was for the first time elected by a popular vote, replacing the electoral vote which had been implemented before. This is the third time the president will be elected by the people directly.

Unless none of the candidates receives an absolute majority of the votes (that is 50% plus one vote) in the first vote, which will take place on Sunday January 15, another vote will take place two weeks later between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. The second vote was needed both 1994 and 2000 to settle the score.

In addition to the three most popular candidates, five other politicians are running for the president. All of them score 2% or less in the opinion polls. Apparently, the minor political parties feel that they just have to set up the candidate of their own. The voters, however, are only too well aware that voting for any of the minor candidates would in fact be the same as casting an empty ballot.

The people also take advantage of the very nature of the popular vote which up to a point sets the parties into a side track. The Conservative and Center Party have formally agreed on a co-operation for a possible second round but the reality is that neither the candidates nor their parties can dictate how their supporters will vote in a second round. That is, if there is to be a second round.

This sort of a conception also opens the door for tactical voting in the first round. I am going to do just that. Last time I voted for president Halonen in both first and second round. I approve most of her actions and decisions during her presidency. She also happens to be the first and propably last president that I know in person. At least I hope she will be the last one because I know a lot of top politicians in person whom I would never want to become a president.

One of those politicians in my black list is prime minister Vanhanen. The competition for the second place and qualification to a second round is hard. Considering possible statistical errors in the opinion polls, it could go either way with a very slim marginal between Vanhanen and Niinistö. Halonen is certain to qualify, if indeed she is not going to get elected already in the first round.

So I am going to do what I have never done in my life. Not in a single election have I ever voted for a conservative candidate. But now I am going to vote for Sauli Niinistö. Just to make sure that Matti Vanhanen will not make it to the second round.

But at the same time I also hope that there will be a second round. Both 1994 and 2000 the serious discussion on the issues only started after the first round when there were only two candidates left in the race. And the same pattern seems to be going on now. None of the candidates seems to be willing to say anything of great importance in fear of loosing votes. But on a second round they will have to come out of their closets to make a higher profile than their opponent.

So if the first round goes my way and will produce a second one with Tarja Halonen and Sauli Niinistö running, neither of them can take my vote for granted. I am going to listen to and analyze their message very carefully and make a decision after my best judgement. And that would be a very interesting two week period. I have never before been in such a situation because both 1994 and 2000 I had a favourite from start to finish of the race. And I also picked the winning horse both times, Martti Ahtisaari 1994 and Tarja Halonen 2000.

While I am happy with most of her decisions, president Halonen does not get my 100% approval. The most important issue that I would have done otherwise is that of joining NATO. I think it should have happened a long time ago and and absolutely no later than the former East European Communist countries including the three Baltic countries formerly occupied by Russia joined two years ago. Both president Halonen and prime minister Vanhanen know that there is no way Finland can avoid joining but they have prepared the matter in great secrecy. A memo was leaked on Saturday saying that detailed preparations of Finnish troops being trained in NATO exercises have been made as early as last spring. But I am not quite convinced that Mr Niinistö would sincerely be any closer to my point of view. It is easy for him to critisize the president and the prime minister because he has been out of the country.

By the way, it is not as dramatical as it sounds that I am for the first time going to vote for the conservatives. The Conservative Party has during the last 30 years swifted quite a lot towards the center becoming de facto almost a liberal party. At the same time the Center Party with an agrarian background has kept traditional rural values and is actually much more conservative that the Conservatives themselves.

But the last week of electoral campaigning before the first round of voting is going to be very exiting. I have helped a friend of mine from the Estonian Television a bit with some background checking and preparatory inquiries. He is coming to Helsinki for the election day to cover it for the Estonian TV news. I am looking forward to the point when we know the outcome and he has filed his material. Then we are going to toss a pint, for better or for worse.



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  1. […] I wrote last night about the background to my decision to cast my ballot in the presidential election in Finland. Although it was mostly based on tactical considerations, I still felt something of a historic moment today as I went to the post office to actually vote for the conservative presidential candidate Sauli Niinistö. It was the first time in my life that I voted for a conservative. […]

  2. Thank you for posting. It´s good to know something about Finnish politics, esp. from an insider.

  3. That is what the World Wide Village is for, Flavia. 😉

  4. […] As I wrote in my blog a week before the first poll, my decision to vote for Mr Niinistö was based on tactical considerations rather than issues. Or to put it more precisely, the absence of issues in the discussion was the very reason I wanted a second round to take place. If president Halonen had been re-elected without a proper discussion about the most important issues, it would have been sort of a silent democracy which is in fact no democracy at all. […]

  5. […] As I explained three weeks ago, I cast my vote in the first round on tactical considerations. I wanted to enforce a second round in order to make the candidates come out of their closets in the most essential issues that are within the competence of the president. I got my second round with the two candidates I wanted to make it there but I am sad to say that neither of them has sufficiently ellaborated their thoughts the way I was expecting. This election leaves an impression of democracy with the lights off. […]

  6. […] Det här var den korta versionen av mitt val av kandidat. Den som vill läsa en grundligare avhandling av samma tema, hänvisar jag till min engelskspråkiga blogg dit jag under helgen postade under rubriken Finland elects president. […]

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