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Presidential candidates Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) and Pekka Haavisto (Green League) were not joined by President Sauli Niinistö at the Finland Arena event in Pori on Friday, July 14, 2017.

 

Pori, a rather quiet and unassuming city in western Finland, comes to life once a year in the summer when two main events are held there simultaneously: Pori Jazz Festival and the more recently established Finland Arena.

Finland Arena is a loosely structured assembly of talks, panel discussions and gatherings based around different topics, especially politics and society.

The bulk of the five-day event is planned and arranged by MTV, the oldest commercial TV channel in Finland and the city of Pori.

As the presidential elections are coming up early next year, one of the discussions in the forum was meant to serve as an initiation of the election campaign for the candidates. Presidential candidates from different parties were present in the discussion: Matti Vanhanen from the Centre Party, Merja Kyllönen from the Left Alliance, Nils Torvalds of the Swedish People’s Party, and Pekka Haavisto of the Green League were all in attendance and ready to kick off their election campaigns.

President Sauli Niinistö, who has confirmed he is running for a second term, was conspicuously absent. He was invited, but perhaps he was busy? Not really, as he was spending time in the presidential summer residence in Naantali, less than 150 kilometres away form Pori. To add insult to injury, he was travelling to Pori to make a solo appearance the very next day.

Niinistö’s no-show was not the only snub towards the other candidates. Another blow came from MTV, who had asked the rest of the candidates to present one or two questions to Sauli Niinistö! “This is so North Korean!” exclaimed Torvalds. “We are not a warm-up band,” said Kyllönen, before continuing: “This [arrangment] is out of this world and undemocratic.”

The organiser, MTV, realising that President Niinistö was not going to participate, had also changed the panel’s title to “The President’s Challengers”.

The fiercest criticism of Niinistö came from Matti Vanhanen, reports Helsingin Sanomat. He said: “Genuine debate is a part of democracy. All of us, including Niinistö, have been invited to this panel. He has his event tomorrow; we have it today! Ask Niinistö when he plans to participate in discussions. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

What President Niinistö could be afraid of, in fact, is facing his challengers with nothing to show for the four years he has held the position. His foreign policy has been mundane and myopic, and he has not shown any defined domestic leadership. The few actions or decisions he has taken, especially the fiasco around the MH17 investigations, are susceptible to criticism in debates and could prove harmful to his chances for a second term.

President Niinistö has announced that he will start his election campaign after Finland’s independence day in November.

The Finnish presidential elections will be held on 28 January, 2018, with a second round on 11 February if necessary. The elected president's term will last until 2024. 

Alexis Kouros – HT


Photo: Lehtikuva / Martti Kainulainen

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