HELSINKI, Finland’s moderate President Sauli Niinisto appeared set for a comfortable re-election victory on Sunday after securing more than 60 percent of the vote, according to early returns.
With around 64 percent of votes counted, Niinisto had a support of 63.7 percent, the election commission said, while his closest rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens of Finland, won 10.9 percent of the votes.
“Niinisto has clearly won this race, my warm congratulations to him,” Haavisto told reporters.
Niinisto, 69, is credited with helping Finland maintain a delicate balancing act in its relations with neighbor Russia NATO: it developed closer ties with the alliance after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, though is not a member.
The president is in charge of Finland’s foreign and defense policy together with the government, but otherwise the post has become largely ceremonial in the past few decades.
Niinisto originally belonged to center-right National Coalition Party (NCP) but now campaigns as an independent.
Following the Ukraine crisis and chilly East-West relations, Niinisto has taken an active role in maintaining relations with Russia via regular contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I have tried my best so that there would be a dialogue between Russia and the West, NATO, the European Union and even the United States,” Niinisto told Reuters on Saturday at a campaign event in city of Espoo, near capital Helsinki.
A lawyer by training, Niinisto was the finance minister in the 1990s, becoming known for his government’s austerity measures following Finland’s recession, as well as the decision to join the euro area.
“His gruff, down-to-earth manner and facts-based approach truly appeals to Finns,” said Juho Rahkonen, Research Manager at pollster Taloustutkimus.