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Finnish Presidential Election – Who Are the Candidates?

Finland is currently preparing to elect the head of state for the next six years. The first round will take place on Sunday the 28th January and the potential second round on the 11th February. If you’re still undecided about who to vote for, here are all the candidates and what they stand for.


Merja Kyllönen (Left Alliance) Number 2

Merja Kyllönen is currently working as an MEP in Brussels. Her campaign has three main themes: equality, fight against climate change and the importance of dialogue. Ideologically, she is quite close to Pekka Haavisto, and not too far from Tuula Haatainen, but she is clearly the furthest to the left of the bunch, and also the most liberal candidate. Like most candidates in this election, she is an underdog, and that, combined with her party’s line, gives her a lot of room to be quite outspoken and clearly state her opinions on hot topics, such as NATO or human rights. She, in line with her party’s views, strongly opposes Finnish NATO membership and maintains that Finland should remain outside of any military alliances.


Pekka Haavisto (the Green League) Number 3

Pekka Haavisto is now running for the second time and trying to revive the hype that took him to the second round six years ago. He was noted outside of Finland as well, for being the first openly gay candidate to run in a presidential election in Finland. Beating candidates from more established parties, who have generally done better in presidential elections, Haavisto came in second, although finally losing out clearly to current president Niinistö. Many saw his program – humanism and tolerance – as a vote against the populist Finns Party that got 19% of the vote in the previous year’s parliamentary elections. Haavisto is currently second in the polls but far behind Niinistö. Haavisto’s themes in the elections revolve around three themes: peace, human rights and the environment. In those, he is close to his party’s priorities. Despite the ground being fertile for discussion on human rights – due to Finland for instance deporting asylum seekers back to countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq – Haavisto hasn’t managed to create as much talk around these themes as could have been expected beforehand. He is also more familiar to people now, making him maybe a less exciting option than last time around.

Matti Vanhanen (the Centre Party) Number 4

The former Prime Minister of eight years, Matti Vanhanen is also repeating a run for the highest office in the country. Vanhanen’s rise to power originally happened a little by accident, when the then newly elected Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki had to resign due to a scandal involving classified information and leaked documents. Vanhanen was the vice-president of the Centre Party and the next in line to become the PM. Many remember how his love life was publicly discussed in the tabloids during his time as the PM. Even though his party is currently the head of the government, Vanhanen’s personal charm hasn’t taken him too far in the race and he also has to contend with competition from a former Centre Party politician Paavo Väyrynen who is running as an independent.


Laura Huhtasaari (the Finns Party) Number 5

Laura Huhtasaari is currently fourth in the polls after Niinistö, Haavisto and Väyrynen and the polar opposite of both Haavisto and Kyllönen. A devout Christian and representative of the splintered Finns Party, Huhtasaari is the most radical of the bunch, at least when it comes to her views on immigration, and she is also the most conservative candidate. Her rise to the top has been fast: she was only elected MP in the last parliamentary elections in 2015. During this election cycle, her home has been vandalized on multiple occasions. Many commentators have noted that Huhtasaari, by being rather far removed from the other candidates on immigration and value questions – she opposes same-sex marriage, for example –  has been able to bring up some topics that might otherwise not have been dealt with. When it comes to the European Union, however, she will have to face competition from Paavo Väyrynen, who also holds critical views on the institution. She will probably get votes from her party’s core constituents, but is unlikely to appeal to a larger audience.


Tuula Haatainen (the Social Democratic Party) Number 6

You can’t talk about a Social Democratic candidate without making reference to the party’s glorious history in this country. The Social Democrats have traditionally fared extremely well in presidential elections: three out of the last four presidents have been social democrats, including the first woman president of the country, Tarja Halonen (serving as president for two terms from 2000 until 2012). Most importantly, the SDP was instrumental in the creation of the type of Nordic welfare state system Finland currently has, having steered the country on multiple occasions after the Second World War. In recent years, apart from Halonen’s success, the party has struggled to get as many votes as before. This can be seen as part of a wider trend in Western countries where established parties lose votes as people either abstain or turn to more radical alternatives either on the left or on the right. Despite being still popular among older voters, many young people specifically don’t consider the SDP a viable option for them, opting for the Green League or the Left Alliance. It is no surprise, then, that Haatainen is struggling in this race. It took painfully long for the SDP to find someone who would agree to run and when Haatainen finally entered the race many thought it was more out of loyalty to her party than genuine desire. Ideologically, Haatainen is close to Pekka Haavisto, but less liberal and somewhat further to the right than Kyllönen.

Paavo Väyrynen (independent candidate) Number 7

Paavo Väyrynen is one of a kind in Finnish politics: if you’re familiar with him, odds are you either passionately hate him or ardently admire him. Väyrynen has the kind of American self-confidence that causes many here to raise eyebrows. He has been considered dead politically a number of times, only to make a comeback in some form or other soon after. Väyrynen has a long and impressive career in politics, having held different ministerial posts, and he is currently working as an MEP in Brussels. Väyrynen has pulled many stunts in the past, from leaving his political home the Centre Party, to establishing his very own party, and even running for the Christian Democrats in the municipal elections in Helsinki. It’s hard to know what he might be up to next, other than probably running for a political post. During the debates, he has often advertised his book and concentrated more on annoying the front-runner Niinistö than suggesting how things might be done better. As always with Väyrynen, he has managed to rise in the polls just before the election day and is currently outperforming his former party’s candidate Vanhanen. We’ll have to wait till Sunday to see whether this rise in popularity is enough to take him to the second round.


Sauli Niinistö (Independent candidate, previously the National Coalition Party) Number 8

Current president Sauli Niinistö enjoys the kind of approval rates that dictators would envy. He has also performed so well in the polls that many have predicted that he could get enough votes – over 50% – to get elected already in the first round. This last week before the election, however, has seen Niinistö’s popularity decrease somewhat, making a runoff scenario all the more likely. All the same, he looks like the most likely winner in the end. Niinistö’s popularity has made this election cycle a tad boring, too, as most pundits and commentators are concentrating rather on guessing by how large a margin Niinistö will win than on who the winner could be. Even before finally running for president for the first time in 2006, he was an exceptionally popular politician, respected by colleagues and citizens from across the political spectrum. Niinistö has had his fair share of tragedy in life, losing his first wife and even having fought for his life in the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Niinistö and his current wife Jenni Haukio are expecting their first child, due to be born in February.


Nils Torvalds (the Swedish People’s Party) Number 9

Torvalds stands out from the others by being the only candidate to openly advocate for Finnish NATO membership. The NATO debate is a recurring one in Finnish politics, always under the surface and regularly popping up. The question splits most parties, however, and few are those who openly advocate membership. Torvalds being openly pro in a group of candidates who either don’t support the membership or don’t think it’s topical right now, has brought some intensity to the debates. Other than that, he hasn’t managed to stand out particularly. Ideologically, he is moderately right-wing just like Niinistö, but more liberal than him. His party, the Swedish People’s Party gets stable but low approval rates, and hasn’t generally fared too well in the presidential elections, but Elisabeth Rehn did make it to the second round in 1994 before being narrowly defeated by Martti Ahtisaari. Interesting trivia: Torvalds is the father of Linus Torvalds who is most known for inventing the Linux operating system.


If you are entitled to vote, go and have your say. Many people in this world are prepared to die for the right to cast a vote in democratic elections.


Photo credits: Mirgon (Wikimedia Commons)


A 28-year-old Global Politics major and former Campus Correspondent. International and national politics, current affairs, feminism, and societal and political issues fascinate me. Other than dreaming of one day travelling the whole world, I drink loads of cappuccino, eat too many cakes, and try to find the time to read more books. My guilty pleasure: American Late Night Shows.
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