Finland's cautious president Niinisto poised for re-election

2018-01-28 12:46
President of Finland Sauli Niinisto campaigns in a shopping centre in Kouvola. (Jussi Nukari, Lehtikuva via AP)

President of Finland Sauli Niinisto campaigns in a shopping centre in Kouvola. (Jussi Nukari, Lehtikuva via AP)

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Helsinki - Finns have voted with expectations that president Sauli Niinisto will be re-elected - credited for maintaining a balanced relationship with powerful neighbour Russia at a time of simmering tensions between Moscow and the West.

Polling stations opened at 07:00 GMT, and are set to close at 18:00 GMT on Sunday.

Niinisto has already cast his vote along with more than 36% of Finland's 3.5 million registered voters.

The latest opinion polls credited Niinisto with between 51% and 63% of votes, having lost ground but still far ahead of the seven other candidates.

His main rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Green party, was seen garnering around 13% - 14% support.

Niinisto needs at least 50% of votes to win the first round of Sunday's presidential vote to be re-elected for another six-year term and avoid a second round of voting on February 11.

If he succeeds, it would be a first since Finland introduced a two-round presidential election by popular vote in 1994.

"It has become less clear whether he will win in the first round but everything indicates that in the end he will be re-elected as president," said Teivo Teivainen, professor of global politics at the University of Helsinki.

Finland's most popular president in more than three decades, the 69-year-old who campaigned as an independent has skilfully shifted the EU member state closer to NATO without antagonising Russia, with whom the Nordic country shares the longest border in the bloc.

During his first term, Niinisto has meticulously cultivated ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been at odds with the West particularly since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

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