Former Minister of Finance Niinistö enters race for Finnish Presidency
Potential incumbent Tarja Halonen could announce plans near SDP Congress
Sauli Niinistö, Vice President of the European Investment Bank and former Minister of Finance, announced on Thursday that he would seek the nomination of the National Coalition Party for the Finnish Presidency.
The announcement makes Niinistö, 56, the first declared candidate in the Presidential elections scheduled for early next year.
Niinistö made his intentions known at a meeting of the National Coalition Party executive in Helsinki. The party is expected to confirm his nomination in November.
Niinistö said that he is seeking the nomination "with enthusiasm and desire". He said that he would be in favour of keeping the powers of the President at the current level, including the status of commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces.
Niinistö also says that Finland's stature in the European Union has diminished since Paavo Lipponen (SDP) was Prime Minister. He says that Finland could have taken a leadership role among the small EU member states, but did not do it.
Niinistö said that he was entering the race to protect the "continuity of the Finnish way of life".
President Tarja Halonen was not surprised at the news of Niinistö's candidacy.
"I read an interview with Niinistö in some newspaper, and I slightly suspected what might be coming", Halonen said on Thursday.
The 61-year-old Halonen would not say if she would run for a second term. However, there were indications that she might be willing to make her intentions known before the Social Democratic Party Congress in early June.
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who has been seen as the likely candidate of the Centre Party, repeated his previously-stated views on Thursday, according to which he will reveal his intentions by the end of April, when the Centre Party Council meets.
Vanhanen, 49, defended the plans of the Centre Party and National Coalition Party to work together in the Presidential elections, by backing the same candidate in the second round. He said that if the centre-right parties do not "pull themselves together", the elections next winter will repeat what happened the four previous times.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Poll: Majority would approve of centre-right cooperation in Presidential election (29.3.2005)
Swedish People's Party offers qualified agreement on cooperation in Presidential elections (18.3.2005)
Social Democrats postpone nomination of Presidential candidate until autumn (13.1.2005)