Sauli Niinistö: from tragedy to the presidency

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Sauli Niinistö: from tragedy to the presidency

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Over the course of Finland’s presidential election campaign, the turbulent personal life of 63-year-old conservative candidate Sauli Niinistö may well have won him some sympathy votes.

His financial expertise has reassured many Finns: he was appointed vice-chairman of the board of directors of the European Investment Bank in 2003 after introducing the euro to Finland as finance minister.

But Niinistö has largely been out of the political spotlight in recent years. His first wife, Marja-Lena, was killed in a car accident in 1995 after more than 20 years of marriage. Niinistö found himself alone looking after his two sons, Nuutti born in 1975 and Matias born five years later.

In 2004, while on holiday in Thailand the three of them were lucky to survive the Boxing Day tsunami: Nuutti took shelter on a hotel roof, while his father and brother clung to a lamp-post to avoid being swept away by the wall of water.

In 2006, Niinistö lost the presidential election to socialist Tarja Hallonen, but three years later fortune smiled on him again when he was appointed as president of the Finnish national football association and he remarried. His second wife Jenni Haukio was his party’s press officer, and despite being 29 years his junior, the two shared a passion for writing: she is a published poet, while he has also had literary works put into print.

During the election campaign, Niinistö recognised making mistakes during his time as a cabinet minister and has been quick to defend the EU and the euro. In the end, Finns rejected the anti-European rhetoric of his rivals.