The Finnish presidential elections

Today is the election day in Finnish presidential elections. The polls close at eight (18:00 UTC), and the preliminary result is expected to be all but done at eleven (around 21 UTC). If you are a Finnish citizen and happen to be in Finland near your home, please vote if you haven’t already done so!

The President of the Republic, as the official title goes, is the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defense Forces (though he or she can delegate that authority to another person), is in charge of Finnish foreign policy in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Cabinet. The President has also some miscellaneous powers of appointment (including the exclusive power to appoint judges to permanent offices) and the general power to grant pardon in individual cases. The President also has certain tightly constrained roles in legislation, the forming and dissolution of government, and the dissolution of the parliament.

It should be noted that the President is not the most powerful person in the Finnish government any more. After the almost royal tenure, a quarter of century long, of Urho Kekkonen, the trend has been to limit the powers of the President. Limits were placed on the number of terms a person may serve as President (two), to the President’s veto powers (can only veto a specific bill once), to the President’s foreign policy powers (cooperation with the cabinet is now required), to the President’s role in forming a government (limited from choosing the Prime Minister to the current, mostly ceremonial, role), et cetera. However, the Finnish people still seems to see the President as the people’s champion against the dirty politicians in the cabinet and parliament; this may explain the popularity of presidential elections (it has the best voter turnaround of all the general elections in Finland).

The President is now for the third time elected with a popular vote. There are eight candidates. If nobody achieves majority, a run-off election is held after two weeks between the two candidates who received the most votes. The newly elected president is inaugurated on the 1st of Februari, if there was no run-off, and on the 1st of March otherwise.

The eight candidates have been allocated numbers between 2 and 9. A voter writes the number of their candidate on the ballot. The same numbers are reused for the runoff. A voter could also vote in advance at the numerous advance polling stations between 4th and 10th off January (excluding the 6th).

The eight candidates are (the candidate number and a recent polling result in parentheses)

  • Bjarne Kallis (2, 1 %), an MP, representing the Christian Democrats
  • Sauli Niinistö (3, 20 %), former Finance Minister, representing the National Coalition Party
  • Timo Soini (4, 4 %), an MP, representing True Finns
  • Heidi Hautala (5, 4 %), a former MEP and current MP, representing the Green League
  • Henrik Lax (6, 1 %), a MEP, representing the Swedish People’s Party
  • Matti Vanhanen (7, 18 %), the Prime Minister, representing the Centre Party
  • Arto Lahti (8, 1 %), professor, not representing any formal party
  • Tarja Halonen (9, 52 %), the incumbent, representing the Social Democratic Party

The most interesting guestion in these elections is whether the incumbent can get majority, forgoing a runoff election. In the latest polls, more than 25 % of the polled refused to indicate their choice, if any.

The incumbent is the eleventh President of the Republic. The full list:

  1. K. J. Ståhlberg (1919–1925), elected by Parliament
  2. L. K. Relander (1925–1931), elected by electoral college elected by proportional vote
  3. P. E. Svinhufvud (1931–1937), elected by electoral college elected by proportional vote
  4. Kyösti Kallio (1937–1940), elected by electoral college elected by proportional vote
  5. Risto Ryti (1940–1944), elected twice by the 1937 electoral college
  6. C. G. E. Mannerheim (1944–1946), elected via special enactment
  7. J. K. Paasikivi (1946–1956), elected by electoral college elected by proportional vote
  8. U. K. K. Kekkonen (1956–1982), elected four times by electoral college elected by propotional vote, once via special enactment
  9. Mauno Koivisto (1982–1994), elected once by electoral college elected by proportional vote and once by a run-off electoral college elected by proportional vote
  10. Martti Ahtisaari (1994–2000), elected by run-off popular vote
  11. Tarja Halonen (2000–2006), elected by run-off popular vote

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