Incumbent Sauli Niinisto made political history in Finland yesterday by becoming the only winner on the first round of voting since direct Presidential elections were introduced in 1994. Sweeping to victory with a crushing 62.6 per cent of the vote, the conservative National Coalition (KOK) candidate, running as a nominal independent, lived up to his status as overwhelming favourite.
Runner-up Pekka Haavisto of the Green League (VIHR) had been much closer to Niinisto in the 2012 contest, scoring nearly 19 per cent to earn a second round run-off (where he advanced to 37 per cent). This time Haavisto garnered just 12.4 per cent. By comparison a measure of Niinisto’s huge advance was that he took just 37 per cent in the first round in 2012, with his second round score that year being 62.6 per cent.
Finns Party (PS) candidate Laura Huhtasaari finished third on 6.9 per cent, a reasonable result considering last year’s internal split that has badly damaged the populist party’s standing. There were very disappointing scores for two of the country’s traditional major parties, with Matti Vanhanen of the centrist KESK on just 4.1 per cent (despite the party currently holding the Premiership), and Tuula Haatainen of the Social Democrats (SDP) gaining only 3.2 per cent.
Opinion polls had shown Niinisto slipping from his high point of up to 80 per cent of voting intentions in late 2017, but in the end two of Finland’s three pollsters were overly pessimistic in their findings: Kantar TNS and Tietoykkonen both reported 58 per cent support for Niinisto in their final surveys. Taloustutkimus’ last poll for national broadcaster YLE, on the other hand, was bang on target at 63 per cent – it was released three days before polling day.
Turnout at 66.8 per cent (69.9 per cent for those resident in Finland itself) was down three points on the 2012 Presidential election.
Despite Niinisto’s victory, most analysts doubt that there will be any change of course in Finland’s foreign and defence policies, the only areas where the President has more than symbolic authority. Under Niinisto the country has moved towards closer defence partnerships with NATO, the EU and Sweden, while maintaining its historically close relations with giant neighbour Russia.
FINLAND 28 January 2018
First round votes for President
Six year term
Sauli Niinisto (KOK) 62.6% or 1,875,342 votes
Pekka Haavisto (VIHR) 12.4% or 371,254
Laura Huhtasaari (PS) 6.9% or 207,337
Paavo Vayrynen (Ind) 6.2% or 185,305
Matti Vanhanen (KESK) 4.1% or 122,383
Tuula Haatainen (SDP) 3.2% or 97,294
Merja Kyllonen (VAS) 3.0% or 89,977
Nils Torvalds (RKP) 1.5% or 44,776
Eligible voters 4,246,803
Total votes 3,002,710
Rejected votes 9,042
Valid votes 2,993,668
Turnout: 66.8% (2012: 69.7%)
Source: Ministry of Justice, Finland. Full official results here.
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