Finnish president Sauli Niinisto, 69, was re-elected on Sunday for a second six-year term following a landslide victory with 62.7 percent of the votes.
When starting his first term in 2012, he did not have much experience in international politics, but at the start of his second term he is already a head of state known personally to the leaders of world powers.
Niinisto comes from a middle class family in the town of Salo in southwestern Finland. His father worked as circulation manager of the local newspaper, and his mother was a nurse.
He studied law at Turku University and graduated in 1974. Unlike many future politicians, he was not very active in student politics.
EARLY POLITICAL CAREER
After some years of practicing law in his hometown, Niinisto was elected into the parliament on the conservative list in 1987 after two failed attempts.
Niinisto was the chairman of the conservative National Coalition Party in 1994-2001. His first cabinet position had been Minister of Justice in 1995-96. His tenure as Finance Minister from February 1996 to August 2001, is the longest time with this portfolio.
His period as the Finance Minister started when Finland was in a deep recession and his message about the need to be frugal gained acceptance.
Niinisto served as Deputy Director General of the European Investment Bank in 2003-2007.
In 1999, he declined to run for the presidency as a conservative candidate. He said he wanted to be able to smoke a cigarette in the street. In the 2000 election, social democrat Tarja Halonen took the presidency.
Niinisto accepted his party’s nomination to run in 2006 but lost, and Halonen won a second term. Niinisto returned to his work at the European Investment Bank, and he came back to Finnish politics in the 2007 parliamentary election.
When Niinisto was Speaker of Parliament in 2007-2011, he imposed in-house cost control that even included economy class flight travel for MPs. That did not please everyone and resulted in an unusual episode. When Niinisto was re-elected as Speaker, he won less than a half of the votes.
In the 2012 presidential election, Niinisto got 62.6 percent of votes in the second round. His contender Pekka Haavisto of the Green Party got 37.4 percent.
Being the president, Niinisto is also the Command in Chief of the defense forces. His personal military rank is a captain. He did national service in coastal artillery. In Finland, the rank of the president does not change albeit he comes the commander-in-chief.
During Niinisto’s presidency, the recognition of the country’s geopolitical position has become more important due to the increased international tension in the Baltic Sea basin.
Niinisto has described Finnish foreign and security policy being based on four pillars. Credible own defense capability tops the list, followed by co-operation with western companions including Sweden, the U.S. and the European Union. Good relations with Russia are third and international organizations such as United Nations comprise the fourth.
Observers note his cooperation with social democratic former foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja was excellent. During the period of the current government, Niinisto has been able to fill the vacuum in international expertise as both the incumbent prime minister Juha Sipila and foreign minister Timo Soini are relatively inexperienced in non-EU international affairs.
Even though his original political home is the conservative party, Niinisto has during the presidency taken distance from his old party. He does not share the pro-NATO stand of his old party, for example.
Last year, Niinisto said he would run for re-election through an election association instead of the nomination by a party, although the conservative party has supported him all out.
Niinisto’s life has involved tragedies that also increased public sympathy. His first wife Marja-Leena died in an autocrash in 1995. In 2003, Niinisto narrowly escaped being washed to death by the tsunami while vacationing in Thailand. He had managed to climb up a tree.
Niinisto and his second wife Jenni Haukio are expecting a baby in early February. The news further upgraded the huge Finnish media interest in the presidential couple that had resembled coverage of royals.
The announcement last May that a baby was on the way, received a very sympathetic reaction from the nation. In the announcement, the couple explained frankly “difficulties had been encountered” as pregnancy was sought. The couple married in 2009.
Niinisto’s public image includes a somewhat cryptic way of using Finnish. In that, he resembles Mauno Koivisto, another president from Southwestern Finland. Enditem