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Finland: the outgoing Niinistö in pole position to win the presidential

Ⓒ Lehtikuva/AFP – Heikki Saukkomaa – | Counting of advance votes for the Finnish presidential
election in Helsinki on 28 January 2018

The Finns went to the polls on Sunday to elect their
president and could drive the outgoing Sauli Niinistö, the
master of the art of bringing his country back to the West
without hurting his powerful Russian neighbor in a tense
geopolitical context. .

The offices closed at 18:00 GMT. According to preliminary
partial results published by the Ministry of Justice (52% of
the votes), the outgoing president, who presents himself as an
independent, would receive 64% of the vote, far ahead of his
opponents.

“I thank everyone (…) but I do not consider my reelection
gained,” said Niinistö in a statement.

Since his election in 2012, he has successfully brought
Finland, former territory of imperial Russia (1809-1917), NATO
without antagonizing its Russian neighbor, at loggerheads with
the European Union and its allies since the annexation by
Moscow from Crimea in 2014.

The Finns, who share with the Russians a border of 1,340
kilometers – the longest in the European Union with this
powerful neighbor – “aspire to stability, they do not want
change at the moment,” says Juhana Aunesluoma, Research
Director at the Network of European Studies attached to the
University of Helsinki.

“Niinistö is a safe choice given the situation in which the
world is,” Raija Palmu, a 62-year-old Helsinki resident, told
AFP.

– ‘Managing Putin’ –

The President, Head of State and Armed Forces, shares the
conduct of International Affairs and Defense with the
government, with the exception of European Affairs which in
principle eludes him.

Its primary mission was to put Finland under the protection
of the US nuclear shield, without hurting Vladimir Putin.

Ⓒ Lehtikuva/AFP/Archives – Seppo Samuli – | Sauli Niinisto, on January 18, 2018 at an advance poll
in Helsinki, Finland

Russia has increased warnings to deter the country from
renouncing its military non-alignment.

Sauli Niinistö cultivates a courteous relationship with the
Russian president, between hockey matches and opera nights.

“His strategy, his tactics proved to be winning, especially
on how to deal with Putin … People feel he has the ability
and the tools to face these challenges,” says Juhana
Aunesluoma.

“One of the main objectives of Finland’s foreign and
security policy is to avoid being dragged into an armed
conflict,” Niinistö said in mid-January on the occasion of the
centennial of the creation of the national armed forces.

No question, therefore, to join the Atlantic Alliance as the
Baltic countries did: Moscow would see a casus belli.

For Teivo Teivainen, Professor of International Politics at
the University of Helsinki, Niinistö’s “ambiguity” on NATO
membership is “a successful strategy” in this campaign because
it has allowed him to satisfy as well voters in favor of
accession than those who opposed it.

Accustomed to high levels of power since the mid-1990s,
Sauli Niinistö was born in 1948 to a working family in the
south-west of the country.

A member of the Conservative National Coalition Party, he
was Minister of Justice in 1995-96, then took the portfolio of
Finance (1996-2003) and helped his country out of recession in
the late 1990s before bringing it in in the euro area.

In 1995, this father of two lost his first wife in a car
accident. In 2004, he himself nearly died in a tsunami in
Thailand.

In 2009, he married his second party
press secretary, 29-year-old Jenni Haukio, who helped this
rather dry man forge a more human image with the Finns.

The couple announced in October that they were expecting a
child for February. According to some analysts, the news has
further increased Mr Niinistö’s love rating among his fellow
citizens.

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