The conservative favorite easily won the first round of Finland’s presidential election Sunday, setting up a runoff against an environmentalist leader who is the first openly gay candidate to run for head of state in the Nordic country. Sauli Niinisto, a former finance minister, won 37 percent of the vote, well ahead of the other candidates but short of the majority needed to avoid a second round, official preliminary results showed. With all votes counted, Pekka Haavisto, of the Greens party, was second with 18.8 percent, securing his place in the Feb. 5 runoff.
The result means Finns will have two pro-European candidates to choose from in the second round, contrasting with the surge in euroskeptic sentiment in last year’s parliamentary election. “Pro-Europe policies and supporting the euro have received strong support from the people,” Niinisto said.
The president has a largely ceremonial role and is not involved in daily politics, but is considered an important shaper of public opinion in the small Nordic country. Former foreign minister Paavo Vayrynen was neck and neck with Haavisto as the results trickled in, but ended up third, with 17.5 percent. Vayrynen, a centrist, and fourth-placed populist leader Timo Soini oppose Finland’s membership in the debt-ridden eurozone.