Finland's hugely popular President Tarja Halonen, the country's first female head of state, is widely expected to clinch a second six-year term in an election Sunday that is more about character than issues. The down-to-earth Halonen, a former Social Democrat, appeals across party lines in this small Nordic nation on the periphery of Europe, which prides itself on tenacity, independence and inventiveness. In many ways Halonen, 62, who grew up in a working class district of Helsinki, epitomizes Finland's history of struggle, from rule by Czarist Russia and invasion by Josef Stalin's Red Army to a working welfare state with a much-praised educational system and a place at the forefront of wireless communications with mobile phone giant Nokia.
Strong-minded and tenacious, Halonen worked her way up in a traditionally male world, studying law and becoming a top lawyer for a major trade union. She was voted into Parliament in 1979 and was a lawmaker for 21 years. Before being elected president, Halonen was foreign minister for five years in a coalition government that took office soon after Finland joined the European Union in January 1995.
She appears equally at ease with ordinary Finns and in the international arena. "Halonen has an excellent ability to combine keen expertise with a certain kind of commonness," said long-term Finnish election analyst, Olavi Borg. "She comes across as being so ordinary that old ladies and the working man can identify with her." The Finnish head of state has few powers and is not involved in daily politics. When Halonen took office in March 2000, a new constitution came into force that gave the president even less authority, a change Halonen herself had helped bring about as a lawmaker.
In the new law, the president, who traditionally relinquishes party ties on appointment, is responsible for foreign policy, but only in close cooperation with the prime minister and government. This makes the position more one of opinion-shaper than political leader, reports the AP. N.U.