Remaining presidential candidates resume campaign for runoff election
Niinistö and Haavisto compete for support of 1.3 million who voted for other candidates in first round
The two-week battle for the votes of the approximately 45 per cent of the electorate who did not vote for the two winners of Sunday’s first round of Finland’s presidential election got off to a start on Monday.
Green League candidate Pekka Haavisto, who came in second, will need the support of 71 per cent of those who voted for losing candidates in the first round if he is to overcome the lead of the front-runner, the National Coalition Party’s Sauli Niinistö.
There were endorsements of Haavisto from the ranks of the Left Alliance and the Social Democratic Party on Monday.
Supporters of the Centre Party and The Finns Party were split between Haavisto and Niinistö, and many were undecided on which of the remaining candidates to back.
Many Centre Party or The Finns Party supporters might simply not vote in the second round.
In previous second rounds of presidential elections, the choice has been clearly between left and right. This time the situation is different.
Both Niinistö and Haavisto are pro-EU city-dwellers. Their respective parties are both in the government, and both take a constructive view of NATO.
Neither of the two have special appeal to blue-collar voters, or to residents of rural areas, whose support they both would like to win.
Few endorsements by losing candidates or their parties were forthcoming.
Left Alliance candidate Paavo Arhinmäki said already on Sunday evening that it should not be difficult to guess whom his party’s supporters would back in the runoff, and on Monday Helsinki’s Left Alliance group agreed to let the Greens use an election campaign cabin in the centre of the city for the remaining campaign.
Christian Democratic candidate Sari Essayah said that she would vote for Niinistö.
The Finns Party chairman Timo Soini, who was quoted on Sunday evening as having endorsed Haavisto, denied the claim on Monday; he had simply said that he was considering whether to vote for Haavisto or Niinistö, and that he would say whom he voted for on the evening of the second round, 15 minutes before polls close.
The party executive and delegate council of the Social Democratic Party will discuss issues related to the presidential election on Thursday.
In addition to discussing the second round, the Social Democrats will ponder why the party’s candidate Paavo Lipponen got less than seven per cent of the vote in the first round.
On Monday Helsingin Sanomat interviewed dozens of Members of Parliament and local party leaders of parties whose candidates failed to get into the second round. There appears to be a certain amount of disagreement within the parties over which candidate to support.
Haavisto is nevertheless likely to get votes from supporters of the Left Alliance, the Social Democrats, and the Swedish People’s Party, while Niinistö is getting support from the Centre Party and Christian Democrats. There is a good deal of uncertainty among supporters of The Finns Party.
“The Finns Party is a riddle. As conservatives, they would have reason to vote for Niinistö, but then they might also want to avoid voting for a representative of the main party in the government”, says political scientist Erkki Karvonen.
Campaigning for the runoff in less than two weeks began immediately on Monday, with both Haavisto and Niinistö meeting reporters and discussing campaign strategy.
Both are travelling to the north of Finland to woo voters in the area where the Centre Party’s Paavo Väyrynen was the strongest candidate. Niinistö is travelling to Oulu on Tuesday, and Haavisto flies to Kemi and Rovaniemi on Wednesday.
Haavisto’s campaign war chest of EUR 250,000 was largely depleted in the first round. However, in less than 24 hours after his first round victory there was a surge of small donations exceeding EUR 100,000.
Niinistö’s campaign has amassed contributions of more than a million euros, and his organisation says that it is unlikely that all of it will be spent.
Speaking at a press conference in Helsinki on Monday, Pekka Haavisto said that he expects the two candidates’ foreign policy expertise to be put to the test. He also said that he feels that the voters are interested in the “psychological state of the nation” and the role of a president influencing values and public opinion.
Haavisto spoke against what he sees as the unnecessary confrontation between urban and rural Finland. He also expressed abiding concern for the social marginalisation, and he said that Finnish expertise in labour market issues could benefit other countries as well.
Sauli Niinistö spent Monday morning reflecting on the outcome of the election. His wife Jenni Haukio got up early to campaign in the Ruoholahti neighbourhood of Helsinki.
Later Niinistö attended a meeting to discuss the strategy of the final stretch. “The only tactic that we really have is to let the guy speak what is on his mind”, he laughs.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Late surge in support puts Haavisto in presidential runoff against Niinistö (23.1.2012)