2018 Presidential Election – Candidate Snapshot

Finland will go to the polls in January 2018 to start voting for the next president. So how do all the candidates look right now?

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File photo: Office of the President of the Republic of Finland / Credit: Matti Porre

Finland’s 2018 Presidential election takes place in a little more than three months. So what’s the current state of play with candidates?

There are seven politicians who want to be Finland’s next President, but one of them is dominating the polls. The other six candidates are hoping they can change the situation in the months ahead.

Popular President

Because incumbent President Sauli Niinistö is so popular with voters, he causes major problems for his competitors. How do you raise your profile as a viable alternative?

The candidate’s conduct and communication campaign must be credible. And that means they should master their topics, and speak in a way that is approachable for voters.

Tarja Valkonen, a lecturer in communications at the University of Jyväskylä, says that statements from candidates have to be meaningful, and their discussion style must be respectful.

“We also can’t forget that expressions are important. Candidates should be dynamic, different from the others, offering variety and know what they’re talking about. They have to capture the voters’ interest” she says.

Unclear Thoughts

Presidential candidates usually hold strong expertise, but the lack of foreign policy experience is a problem at least for Tuula Haatinen (SDP) and Laura Huhtasaari (Finns).

Meanwhile Merja Kyllönen (Left) and Nils Torvalds (Swedes) are members of the European Parliament, and could be somewhat unknown to voters back in Finland.

Candidates must be experts, but they will also be judged on how they behave.

“They are expected to master a good argument” says Eeva Lehtimäki, from the Ellun Kanat communications agency.

Lehtimäki and Pekka Isotalus, professor of speech communication at the University of Tampere, say the current President, Sauli Niinistö, doesn’t always shine at this particular skill.

“His thoughts are not always complete. You have to listen carefully to him, he speaks in long sentences and the thought gets lost in the flow of words” says Lehtimäki.

“He could pronounce himself in an easier way” says Isotalus.

Experience Doubts

Huhtasaari’s lack of particular expertise raises questions and doubts with both Lehtimäki and Isotalus.

Huhtasaari still gets plus points for the way she performs in public – according to Isotalus, Huhtasaari is the only candidate who can charm an audience and stand out from the crowd.

However, her opinions are often blunt.

“She creates a nice and comfortable picture, but what she says can be very hot,” says Isotalus.

Lehtimäki says, however, that it’s not enough to “scream the loudest with a smile on your lips”.

“The presidential candidates are expected to have a clear vision of where the world is heading” she says.

Green Hopes

Pekka Haavisto (Greens) won a lot of support at the previous presidential election in 2012, and came second behind Sauli Niinistö.

But how will the former UN official fare this time around, when he no longer benefits from such widespread media coverage as before?

“In a way, we have seen it all before [with Haavisto]. Can he be successful in reinventing himself in some way?” asks Lehtimäki.

Professor Isotalus praises Haavisto’s last campaign as being very skilled, but he says it will be difficult to rebuild a similar campaign to challenge Niinistö this time round.

Meanwhile the Centre Party’s Matti Vanhanen, a former Prime Minister, does have a lot of expertise. But his public imagine is looking a little tired, and he could be placed between Haavisto and Niinistö, in the minds of voters.

“His position is very difficult and challenging” says Lehtimäki.