Niinisto said if elected he would ensure government cutbacks were evenly distributed among the population [Reuters]

Pro-euro presidential candidate Sauli Niinisto has taken the lead in the first round of Finnish elections but will have to face Green League opponent Pekka Haavisto in February.

Preliminary results on Sunday showed voters in Finland preferred the former finance minister, giving him 36.9 per cent of the vote.

Centrist foreign minister Paavo Vayrynen, initailly expected to finish in second, was overtaken by Haavisto, who is estimated to have 18.7 per cent of votes cast. That puts Haavisto, the nation's first openly gay candidate, ahead of Vayrynen, who came in a surprising third with 17.6 per cent.

The remaining votes will be split among all the five remaining candidates from the remaining five parties of the parliament. All eight parties nominated a candidate in this year's election.

Niinisto's lead was expected as was his coming in under the majority needed to avoid a runoff in two weeks. What was unexpected based on pre-poll surveys, was that he would be facing off against the Green's Haavisto.

The 63-year-old Niinisto said if elected he would have a duty to ensure the government's expected belt-tightening measures will be evenly spread among the 5.3 million people in the Scandanavian nation.

Though membership in the eurozone has been central to this year's polls, relations with the 17-member body traditionally fall under the auspices of the prime minister not the president.

The victor of this year's polls will be the nation's twelfth since independnece from Russia in 1917.

Outgoing president, Tarja Halonen, the country's highly popular first female head of state, served two six-year terms in a nation where the president has a largely ceremonial role with little impact on day-to-day domestic politics.

 

Source: Agencies