Sauli Niinisto was re-elected as Finland’s president without recourse to a runoff — a first since the post has been settled by popular vote. The 69-year-old former finance minister won the election with 62.7 percent backing, surpassing the 50 percent needed to avoid a second vote. His closest rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens, who ran against Niinisto in 2012, had support of 12.4 percent and conceded defeat, YLE said. Turnout was 66.7 percent. “Finland is a great country — it’s the most stable country in the world,” Niinisto told his supporters in Helsinki on Sunday. “Better to be small and stable than large and fractured.”
Although at the helm of a largely ceremonial post, the president helps steer foreign policy. It is in this capacity that he has solidified his reputation as a skillful power broker, balancing Finland’s Western commitments while forging a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two heads of state have met or spoken on the phone more than 20 times during Niinisto’s first six-year term. The Finn continued to keep an open line with its bigger neighbor even after the invasion of Crimea, and presided over the setting up of a defense hotline between Helsinki and Moscow two months ago.
He’s been able to maintain dialog throughout the crisis in Ukraine while at the same time “keeping Finland staunchly behind the EU’s sanction policies,” said Teija Tiilikainen, director of the Helsinki-based Finnish Institute of International Affairs.