Millions of Finns are going to the polls for a second time this month to elect a president. It is a run-off after a first round in which no candidate obtained more than the 50 percent needed to win outright. The contest is between the incumbent Social Democrat leader, Tarja Halonen and her conservative challenger, Sauli Niinisto and polls show the outcome is too close to call.
Halonen has history on her side however. An incumbent president hasn’t lost a re-election bid since 1937 and the Social Democrats have had an unbroken hold on the office for the past 24-years. The election campaign was dominated by foreign policy issues, particularly neutral Finland’s relationship with Nato. Both Halonen and Niinisto say a referendum will decide whether the country should join. Both candidates also broadly support Finland’s EU membership. The president’s decision making power is limited to foreign and security policy, yet the head of state can still influence a variety of issues as an opinion leader.