Finland re-elects pragmatic president Niinisto to ease Russia worries
HELSINKI – Agence France-Presse
Finns on Jan. 28 re-elected their popular and cautious president Sauli Niinisto, who is credited with maintaining a balanced relationship with the nation’s powerful neighbor Russia at a time of simmering relations between Moscow and the West.
“I am surprised and touched by this big support,” Niinisto told reporters in Helsinki, who secured over 62 percent of the vote, significantly ahead the seven other candidates, with all the ballots counted.
Finland’s most popular president in more than three decades, the 69-year-old politician avoided a need for a second-round of voting, a first since Finland introduced a two-round presidential election by popular vote in 1994.
Niinisto’s main rival Pekka Haavisto of the Green party won just 12 percent of the votes.
Conceding defeat, he told reporters in Helsinki: “I admit that Saulu Niinisto clearly won, warm congratulations to him.”
Niinisto, who campaigned as an independent, has delicately shifted the EU member state closer to NATO without antagonizing Russia, with whom the Nordic nation shares the longest border in the bloc.
During his first term, Niinisto diligently cultivated ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been at odds with the West, particularly since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Niinisto took an active role in meeting Russian leaders and other politicians... it shows that people appreciate this leadership,” Tapio Raunio, a political science professor at the University of Tampere, told AFP.
“The Finns are used to seeing the president as guarantor of national security and survival,” Raunio added.