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Euro-sceptic populist Timo Soini fails to build on parliamentary success
MALMO, Sweden — Finland’s voters are set to give the The Finns, the country’s thriving nationalist party (formerly known as True Finns), their first election setback when they go to the polls for a presidential election on Saturday.
Timo Soini, the party's charismatic leader, turned the election into a de facto referendum on support for the euro when he announced last autumn he would run against front-runner Sauli Niinistoe.
Two days before the poll, however, voters appear ready to back the pro-euro candidates.
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A poll on Thursday for Finland’s YLE news agency put Mr. Niinistoe — who brought the country into the euro zone as Finance Minister in 1999 — ahead with the backing of 29 percent of voters.
The other pro-euro candidate, the Green League’s Pekka Haavisto, had 12 percent of the vote.
The Center Party’s Paavo Vaeyrynen, who has joined Soini in opposing Finland’s membership, was supported by just 10 percent of the voters. Mr. Soini himself drew just over 6 percent of voters.
Mr. Soini's bombastic anti-euro and anti-bailout rhetoric helped quadruple the The Finns’ share of the vote in the country’s April parliamentary election, winning them more than 19 percent of votes.
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Seppo Hentila, a professor of politics at Helsinki University, said that voters were looking for a less divisive figure as president.
“They want the president to be a strong and representative figure,” he said. “Timo Soini, originally he didn't want to be a candidate at all for president, but he was obliged because his party doesn't have any other big name. So his campaign has been very poor. He has looked reluctant all the time, and his rhetoric has been modest compared to parliamentary elections last spring.”
Hentila said that it was near certain that Niinistoe would end up winning the poll in the second round, which starts Feb. 5. He argued this should bring comfort to European politicians reliant on Finland’s continuing support for efforts to stabilize the economy of the euro zone.
“I’m quite sure that the new president will support the government in full, and I'm quite sure that Finland will join this new mechanism, which is meant to stabilize the economic situation in Europe,” he said.
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