Green Haavisto sets sights on Finnish top job

Updated: 2012-02-03 08:08

By Denise Wall (China Daily)

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HELSINKI - An openly gay ex-activist and conscientious objector, Pekka Haavisto is not your typical presidential candidate - but after surprisingly securing a spot in Sunday's run-off vote he has a distant shot at the prize.

The 53-year-old Greens' candidate catapulted from obscurity to take second place with 18.8 percent in the first round of voting on Jan 22.

Ahead of the second round, however, he is trailing 28 points behind conservative Sauli Niinistoe, who received 64 percent in the most recent poll.

Strongly in favor of the European Union and of Finland playing a leading role in the eurozone, Haavisto is known as a competent negotiator with broad international experience, crisis management skills and strong positioning on environmental and equality issues.

Counting the young and liberal among his most ardent supporters, Haavisto was described by one follower on his official Facebook page as "a breath of fresh air and fresh values, a president who would treat us all equally regardless of our background or position".

Following the euroskeptic, anti-immigration Finns Party's surge in general elections last year to become Finland's third-largest party, analysts say many voters were opting for Haavisto to show the country has a more open and tolerant side.

Born in March 1958 to Helsinki school teacher parents, Haavisto never completed his degree in political science at Helsinki University.

Instead, he went backpacking and published a Finnish InterRail guide in 1977 for people crisscrossing Europe with a ticket for unlimited rail travel.

In 1979 he joined the Koijaervi Movement, which initially focused on saving a bird sanctuary and later broadened to promote wider environmental issues.

The conscientious objector, who chose civil service over military service in 1985, insisted during his campaign that "international politics ... should advance peace efforts".

Haavisto was first elected to parliament in 1987 and headed Finland's Green League party from 1993 to 1995. He also served as Europe's first Green cabinet member as environment and development minister, from 1995 to 1999.

Agence France-Presse