Green in runoff for Finnish presidency

In Finland’s presidential election this past weekend, the two leading candidates were Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party and Pekka Haavisto of the Green League.

Niinistö won 37.0%, Haavisto 18.8%. The third-place candidate was Paavo Väyrynen of the Centre Party (KESK), with 17.5%. The Social Democratic Party had an embarrassing result, with its candidate getting only 6.7%, behind the candidate of the True Finns (9.4%). See Robert Elgie’s blog for more.

The Social Democrats currently hold the presidency, having won 46.3% in the first round in the 2006 presidential election, and then 19.1% in the 2011 parliamentary election, so this year’s result is a spectacular fall for the party.

Both runoff candidates’ parties are in the current governing coalition, as are the Social Democrats.

Robert asks the same question I was wondering when I heard of the Finnish result on the news: Is this the first time a Green has qualified for a presidential runoff anywhere? At first I thought so, but then I remembered Colombia’s precedent.

In the run-up to the 2010 Colombian presidential election, polling suggested Antanas Mockus, the Green candidate would not only make the runoff, but might win it. Mockus did indeed finish second in the first round, with a higher percentage (21.5%) than Haavisto just won, but Juan Manuel Santos (46.6%) went on to win the runoff easily.

As Helsingin Sanomat notes, Haavisto would need the support of 71% of the 45% of voters who voted for a now-eliminated candidate in order to win. Despite some labor-union endorsements, that seems like a tall order.

Finland’s constitutional structure is permier-presidential, meaning that the cabinet depends on the exclusive confidence of the parliamentary majority. The presidency was reduced in power by a constitutional reform in 2000.

8 thoughts on “Green in runoff for Finnish presidency

  1. From what I understand, the front runner this time ran the eventual Social Democratic president quite close in the last election-he’s some sort of skiing champion, so I suppose he has a cross-party appeal. I do wonder what happened to the SDP. Perhaps the combination of a candidate from the right-wing of the party, which left room for the Green, and the rise of the True Finns sapping their “popular” support led to this debacle.

    Interesting to contrast this with France, where the Green candidate is almost completely marginalised, and the Socialist is taking great care to shore up his left-wing support (he claimed that his great enemy was “the world of finance” in his big speech last week).


  2. Relating this to MSS’s and Samuels’ book, I am idly wondering Haavisto would have polled so well had Finland still used its electoral college.

    Never having lived in a polity with presidential direct elections, nonetheless ISTM that the more personalised structure of a direct vote might be more congenial to an insurgent candidate (“vote for me, I’m not aligned with the Big Two [or Three, or Four] government parties, I’m an individual, you can trust me”) than would be assembling a team of 300 or so candidates for Presidential Elector. You cease to be the lone gunslinger, your organisation becomes one more quasi-party.

    Elected presidential electoral colleges outside the US and (formerly) Finland and Argentina are so rare they provide few pure data-points, although it does appear that a challenger to a US State Governor will occasionally win both the primary and the general election (eg, Palin) whereas a primary challenge to a US President (a) almost never prevents their re-nomination, but (b) almost invariably prevents their re-election. I wonder if the absence of “tickets of electors” in the gubernatorial contest might be one factor.


    • Tom, yes, I think it is surely the case that direct election makes “insurgent” candidates more feasible than in a more party-controlled process, like the original Finnish electoral college or, more obviously, a parliamentary system.

      As for state executives in the USA, I don’t see how electors vs. purely direct election makes a difference; US general elections for president are de-facto direct, just aggregated at state level rather than nationwide. I just don’t see how electors matter for the difference between US presidents and state governors that you are suggesting. I suppose it is possible that the earlier stage, convention delegates vs. direct nomination, might make more of a difference, although I am at a loss to think of just why this might be. Maybe the reason intra-party challengers to governors win more often is simply that a larger number of elections allows us a greater chance of observing such an event. The sample size at the federal level is awfully small. Moreover, many states are much more heavily dominated by one party than the country as a whole ever has been.

      This discussion is pretty far from Finland by now…


  3. Tom Round has an interesting hypothesis.

    However, I think the lack of success for what you might call non-institutional candidates for President of the U.S. (primary challengers to incumbents, minor party and independent candidates) compared to equivalent candidates for governor has more to do with the large U.S. nuclear arsenal. Most of the electorate is simply not going to take a chance with the presidency of the U.S. though they might give a second look to a non-institutional candidate for a less powerful office.

    And we are talking about relative terms, success for at least independent and minor party candidates in the U.S. for any office is very rare.


  4. MSS and Ed, thanks for scrutinising my hypothesis. By “insurgents” I was thinking more of intra-party primary challengers than third-party or independent candidates. Occasionally a Sarah Palin wins the GOP primary for Alaska Governor or a Ned Lamont wins the Democratic primary for Connecticut Senator, unseating an incumbent from their own party. But if even a Kennedy (okay, admittedly Teddy) couldn’t unseat Jimmy Carter in 1980, it seems that Presidents are safe from being replaced by an insurgent within their own party. Of course, a strong insurgent may well force out a sitting President – by early “retirement” (Kefauver 1948, McCarthy 1968) if not by general election defeat (Kennedy 1980, Buchanan 1992) – but it’s a suicide mission since it usually seems to hand the White House to the opposition party. I suspect the “Draft Hillary ‘012” cheerleaders are making the same calculations.

    My point is that getting on the ballot and organising a campaign is onerous enough when it’s just one person. Multiply that by checking the nomination paperwork for 538 Electors or, formerly, 300 presidentin äänestäjiäit, and it’s a lot more work, especially for a new candidate who doesn’t have the party’s administrative machinery behind them.

    Also, of course, size and population help independents. Countries with purely ceremonial directly elected presidents tend to be small in both (Ireland, Finland, Austria). When it comes to Russia, France, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria or of course the USA, the sheer scale of campaigning (together with the “nuclear codes” factor, as Ed noted, mutandis mutatis) will preclude most independents from being seriously considered by the majority of voters.


  5. We are far afield from the original post, but I wanted to make two points.

    First, in the 19th century, third parties in the United States were real third parties, they ran candidates for Congress as well as President. After World War II for some reason even relatively strong independent candidacies for the President were single shot candidacies, no congressional tickets. But for some reason the Greenbacks, the Populists, and the Prohibition Party had some sort of organizational skills that eluded Wallace, Anderson, and Perot and were able to field not only slates of electors but candidates for congressional seats as well.

    As for primary challengers killing incumbents’ chances of re-election, the sample size is small (one nitpick, Truman sat out the 1952 campaign, not the 1948 campaign). At least one of the two forced retirements would have happened anyway (LBJ, who after all won the New Hampshire primary in 1968 had heart problems and almost certainly wouldn’t have survived another presidential term in any event).

    I’m actually more impressed by the record of the adverse effect relatively strong third party/ independent candidacies killing presidential reelection bids. Incumbent losses in 1892, 1912, 1980, and 1992 were accompanied by relatively strong third party or minor party challenges. In contrast, the only post-civil war instances of an incumbent losing the general election and there not being a strong minor party challenge were 1888 (the incumbent won the popular vote), 1932 (obvious special circumstances), and 1976 (unusually low incumbency advantage). But again, we have a small sample size. And incumbents in 1924 and 1996 were able to weather relatively strong independent challengers.


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