Niinisto wins poll to become new Finnish president

Niinisto wins poll to become new Finnish president

Finns on Sunday elected former finance minister Sauli Niinisto of the conservative National Coalition Party as their new president, beating off the Green Party's Pekka Haavisto, who conceded defeat and congratulated the winner, dpa reported.

With 99.9 per cent of the vote counted, Niinisto had 62.6 per cent while Haavisto was on 37.4 per cent.

Niinsito said he was pleased with the outcome, adding: "It was better than I expected."

In a victory speech to cheering supporters at Finlandia House he promised to be "president of all Finland" and kissed his wife, Jenni Haukio.

The result was a comeback for the 63-year-old Niinisto who was narrowly defeated in a 2006 runoff by President Tarja Halonen, who cannot stand for a third six-year term.

The incoming president said he "valued cooperation, regardless of what party people represent."

Niinisto has been frontrunner since he last year confirmed he would run again. He is to meet Monday with Halonen, and takes over on March 1.

During his term as finance minister from 1996 to 2003 and later as speaker of parliament, he won a reputation for speaking frankly. A lawyer by training, he also served as justice minister.

"I am not hard or soft, but decisive," he said, when trying to "rectify things that are wrong."

Niinisto's first wife died in a car crash in 1995, leaving him to raise two young sons. In 2009, Niinisto remarried. His new wife, Jenni Haukio, born in 1977, is head of communications at his National Coalition Party, a position she must vacate as first lady.

The president's role is largely ceremonial but he has some say in foreign policy - at least on matters not related to the European Union, which is the reserve of the government.

Both Niinisto and Haavisto were viewed as pro-EU in their stances and said that Finland should support bailouts for eurozone members.

"The result was a strong message that Finland is a strong, pro-EU country," Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said Sunday.

Haavisto, a former environment minister who left government in 1999, has in recent years worked as an international envoy for the United Nations and the EU in several hotspots, including Darfur.

The soft-spoken 53-year-old welcomed that the presidential campaign had introduced "a new tone" in Finland and that "many youth had voted."

The openly gay Haavisto, who in 2002 registered his partnership with Antonio Flores from Ecuador, made a strong showing. Two weeks ago he secured a place in the runoff, defeating Centre Party veteran Paavo Vayrynen for second place behind Niinisto.

Haavisto's campaign managed to generate support from many informal groups and tapped in on Facebook and social media to channel support.

Turnout was 69 per cent, compared to 77.2 per cent in the 2006 runoff. Sunday was another cold winter day in the country. Overnight temperatures dropped to new lows in several locations in eastern and northern Finland. The season's coldest temperature - minus 40.7 degrees - was registered in Naruska in Salla, eastern Lapland.

Another explanation for the lower turnout was that euro-sceptic voters abstained, analysts said.

For the first time in 30 years the country will have a president who was not endorsed by the Social Democrats.

About 4.4 million voters were eligible to vote. The Justice Ministry's election unit said 36 per cent of the voters had cast their ballots in advance voting.

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