Finland makes up its mind

Today’s flying of flags in Finland was rather overdetermined. Not only is it Runeberg’s Day – of which more later – but it’s the day for the second-round election for the country’s president. The frontrunner Sauli Niinistö of the conservative Coalition Party failed to secure more than the fifty percent on the first ballot which would have immediately given him the lease on the presidential palace for the next six years. More surprisingly, the runner-up did not come from the Social Democrats – who have held the presidency since Urho Kekkonen left power in 1982 – nor from the Centre Party whose Paavo Vayrynen came third, but from the Green League.

Pekka Haavisto is a former UN peace negotiator and opted to do social service rather than go in the army in a country where military service is still obligatory. Much has been made of the fact that he is gay and in a registered partnership with a hairdresser from Ecuador. It has even been suggested in some quarters that his sexuality would make relations with Muslim nations more awkward, to which others reply that no one suggested that having a female president might make things tricky with, say, Saudi Arabia.

The outcome, in terms of who’s going to win, seems to be in little doubt, with two thirds of advanced votes being cast for Niinistö who is the odds-on favourite. All the same, the remarkable success of a politician from what has previously been seen as a relatively marginal party may be a sign of a changing political landscape.

Meanwhile, Finns returned home from the polling stations to enjoy a Runerbergin Torttu, a rather tasty flour and breadcrumb cake. The cakes were the invention of the wife of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Finland’s national poet, whose day is celebrated today. Runeberg, who wrote in Swedish, penned the words for Finland’s National Anthem Vårt land (Our Land or Maamme in Finnish). The tune is also used by Estonia for their national anthem Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm and so, in a way the song celebrates not only Finland’s multicultural heritage but also its international connections.

Some have apparently argued that Sibelius’ Finlandia, performed here in a rather beautiful flashmob version in Helsinki Railway Station, would make a better national anthem. But on this issue, as on that of who would make the best president, this blog remains diplomatically  neutral.

+++++ UPDATE  ++++++

With almost all the votes counted,  YLE reports that Niinistö will be the next president with 62.6 per cent of the vote. All the same, Haavisto has reason to be pleased with the result. In Helsinki, he took almost 50 per cent of votes cast.


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