(Updates with result from first paragraph.)
Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Sauli Niinistoe, the candidate of the ruling National Coalition Party, won today’s Finnish presidential run-off election as the Nordic nation showed its support for his group’s pro-Europe policies.
The 63-year-old former finance minister beat his opponent Pekka Haavisto of the Green League with 64 percent of the votes to 36 percent, broadcaster YLE projected as 81.7 percent of the ballots were counted. Haavisto conceded defeat in an interview on YLE TV1.
“I suppose I have to begin to believe this,” Niinistoe said in an interview on YLE TV1 after seeing the projection.
Niinistoe may need to gird Finns for austerity measures with the northernmost euro nation heading for its second recession in four years as the debt crisis weighs on demand. Saddled with Europe’s fastest aging population, Finns are tightening their belts amid a fourth consecutive budget deficit.
Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen plans 1.16 billion euros ($1.5 billion) of spending cuts and 1.1 billion euros in tax increases this year to plug the shortfall, estimated at 1.4 percent of gross domestic product.
“Niinistoe is running on a platform of economic realism,” said Tuomo Martikainen, professor emeritus in political science at the University of Helsinki. “He’s mainly concerned with how to boost Finland’s economy and ensure it withstands the crisis. Haavisto speaks more on human rights.”
Niinistoe won 37 percent of votes in the first round last month, defeating candidates such as Timo Soini, the head of “The Finns” party, who has called for Finland to exit the euro. Finland, one of four remaining AAA rated countries in the bloc, has threatened to derail efforts to solve the crisis, including demanding collateral to provide emergency funds to Greece.
Finland’s first woman president, Tarja Halonen, is stepping down after a limit of two six-year terms.
The president is the head of state, while the prime minister runs the government. Presidential powers include steering foreign policy in cooperation with the government, appointing top civil servants such as the central bank governor and commanding the armed forces. Bank of Finland Governor Erkki Liikanen’s second and final term ends in July 2018 and his successor may be named by the new president.
After constitutional amendments have shifted the balance to the government, the greatest power lies in the prestige and authority of the position, Martikainen said.
“The president can use his position to influence public opinion,” Martikainen said. “Rhetorical clout is a significant method of wielding power.”
--Editor: Jonas Bergman
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