Sauli Niinisto at his election reception in Helsinki, on Jan. 28, 2018
Jussi Nukari—Lehtikuva/AP
By Jari Tanner / AP
January 28, 2018

(HELSINKI) — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto crushed his competition with a landslide election victory Sunday that saw him receiving more than five times as much voter support than his closest challenger.

With all ballots counted, Niinisto had 62.7 percent of the vote, while his leading rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens, had 12.4 percent.

Haavisto, the runner-up in the 2012 election, conceded the race long before the vote-count was completed, telling Finnish national broadcaster Niinisto “is the republic’s new president with this result.”

None of the other six candidates received more than 7 percent of the vote.

Niinisto, 69, a former finance minister and parliament speaker, has been a highly popular president since he took office in 2012. He needed a majority to prevent a runoff and to win re-election outright.

He ran as an independent with no association to the conservative National Coalition Party that he earlier chaired.

Finland’s president designs the blueprint for the country’s foreign and security policy together with the government. As head of state, the president is the key foreign policy player, particularly on issues outside the European Union.

The president also acts as the supreme commander of military forces and can veto legislation.

To most Finns, the president’s key task is to assure friendly ties with both neighboring Russia, which shares a 1,340 kilometer (833-mile) border with Finland, and the West, particularly the United States.

Judged by his vast popularity, Niinisto seemingly handled the balancing act well. Finland joined the EU in 1995, but doesn’t belong to NATO.

Recent polls predicted Niinisto would get between 58 and 63 percent of the vote and Haavisto of the Greens would garner some 14 percent.

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