Finland’s head of state Tarja Halonen has comfortably won the first round of the country’s presidential elections but has not scored enough to avoid a run-off.She has taken 46.3 per cent with Sauli Niinisto of the National Coalition Party second and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen of the Centre Party third. She said: “You know that in Finland it is better to be modest than arrogant, if I have counted correctly I have more support that Mr Vanhanen and Niinisto put together. So it’s not a bad figure, I mean if it had been a parliamentary election, it would have been for the Social Democrats or the left alliance a very big victory.” Sauli Niinisto will go head-to-head with Halonen on January 29. Formerly the country’s finance minister, Niinisto acknowledged that joining NATO is a major issue for the country. “Joining NATO is a Finnish question if Finland is joining NATO and I do not believe it has nothing to do with our relation with Russia,” he said. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen of the Centre Party is now out of the contest. He admitted he was disappointed but said he is not about to take a back seat in politics: “I will continue as prime minister, this was a presidential election and tomorrow I will continue in the prime minister’s office and looking towards the parliamentary elections.” He finished the evening in third place with just over 18 per cent of the vote. A candidate needs at least 50 per cent to win the first round outright, as Halonen did in 2000. The turnout was nearly 74 per cent of the 4.3 million people who were eligible to vote. While the president of Finland not longer has the same range of powers as pre-2000, he or she is still the country’s symbolic leader.
Finnish president through to run-off