Sauli Niinisto had been beaten in 2006, but easily won yesterday's run-off poll. MARTTI KAINULAINEN/AP

Finland's conservatives win presidency for first time in 55 years

The pro-EU conservative and former finance minister Sauli Niinisto takes a clear majority in Finland’s run-off election.

FINLAND’S CONSERVATIVE ‘National Coalition’ Party has been elected the country’s new president, winning the office for the first time in 55 years.

Sauli Niinisto won an easy majority of votes in yesterday’s second-round ballot, taking 63 per cent of the vote, seeing off the challenge of Green League opponent Pekka Haavisto.

Finland’s YLE said Niinisto had won 14 of the country’s 15 electoral districts, in a ballot that had the lowest turnout for a presidential election since 1950.

Niinisto, 63, will take over the office on March 1 – becoming the first conservative to hold the office since 1956. It was his second attempt at seeking the office, having been beaten by the then-incumbent Tarja Halonen in 2006.

A staunch pro-European, Niinisto had previously served as Finland’s finance minister between 1996 and 2003 – overseeing the country’s entry into the euro.

He was also credited with helping to revive the country’s economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was Finland’s long-time main trading partner.

His opponent had also been pro-European, and had beaten notably Eurosceptic candidates Paavo Vayrynen (Centre Party) and Timo Soini of the nationalist True Finns party in the original ballot two weeks ago.

Niinisto told Reuters that he understood the worries of some Finnish voters who were anxious about Finland’s role in helping the eurozone out of its crisis.

“The Finnish people have full right to be critical, but at the same time I would like to say that Finland has shown more solidarity than anybody else,” he said.

Analysts said the economic difficulties currently seen by Finland – which saw its economy shrink sharply during the early days of the European recession – had encouraged many voters to elect a president with experience in reviving the economy.

“The president in Finland has to understand that there are many different thoughts and opinions and that they must be taken into account so that he can be the president of the whole nation,” Niinisto said in his victory speech.

The role of the Finnish president is similar to that of the Irish one, with largely ceremonial powers. They are seen as an important ‘brand ambassador’ for the country abroad.

Niinisto has led an eventful life: he is well-known for having survived the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, when he was visiting Thailand, by climbing a utility pole with his son. He is also the president of the country’s national football association.

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