Saturday, January 21, 2006

Quest for leadership

Smokin' Cheeba Cheeba
Originally uploaded by hfb.
The Finnish presidential elections are in full swing. The latest polls show that the gap between Halonen and Niinistö has narrowed significantly. I think it was a commentator in the election blog of the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat who said that we are now seeing a real battle where Halonen has everything to lose and Niinistö has nothing to lose.

I watched last night the first television debate between them after the first round. I found it intriguing. Halonen was clearly tense and she was relatively easy to provoke whereas Niinistö was alert but stayed calm.

They both seem to have an image problem. Halonen started her campaign as the president of the entire nation and is trying to stick to that although she has been forced into a real political battle. Niinistö has a reputation as a precise and no-nonsense economist and is trying to broaden that. The supporters of Niinistö are trying to highlight the fact that Halonen is still a socialist whereas some supporters of Halonen are reminding that Niinistö was ready to make people pay for public libraries.

For me the situation is troublesome. I think that Halonen has been a superb president but her campaign has not been that good. As I wrote in an earlier post, her campaign has had a tendency for depolitication (is that how you spell it...) whereas Niinistö's is trying to remind that there are alternatives.

Halonen's problem is that she was elected as one of us. As a president she was like an improved version of the good things seen as Finnish (genuine, sincere, straight to the point). In the campaign, however, she has taken the role of president which does not really go together with the former image. Niinistö then again has never strived for being one of us. He plays the card of being A Leader, a charismatic man. Niinistö's economy-driven campaign is highly masculine.

From a point of view of rhetorics the debate on YLE was interesting. The candidates did not seem able to decide whether they should stick to formal Finnish or talk casually. Especially Halonen slipped even inside sentences. Niinistö, then again, is still so appallingly stiff in his articulation. But I guess several Finns interpret this as professionalism. In the elections 2000 one of the reasons Esko Aho lost for Halonen was that he was seen as too smooth. The debate reminded again that our political tradition is not a spoken one.

The second half of the debate concentrated on globalisation. I think this was an excellent move because that is an area where the views of our president can make a difference. I was disappointed once again. I find it alarming that both candidates still play into the hands of populists by starting their answer on immigrants by talking about Finnish mass unemployment.

Halonen especially is in a difficult situation with this subject. She seems to genuinely believe in fair globalisation (for instance her work in the ILO Committee) but she must make sure not to irritate the unemployed or trade union people on the left.

All and all, I think the feeling of a real competition has been good for Finnish democracy. President should be a position that you really have to fight for. It has become clear that Finnish voters have realised that they do have power.


Niko said...

"Niinistö was ready to make people pay for public libraries."

Which actually is not true. Niinistö has never proposed anything like that. It was at the time of economic depression when he was asked would he, if the economical situation went too bad, prefer to keep health care or libraries free. In that case, Niinistö chose the health care.

To argue that Niinistö has proposed library fees is just leftist propaganda.

Tommi Laitio said...

I had to check again what I wrote. I wrote that Halonen´s supporters are reminding that Niinistö was ready to make people pay for libraries. I am not saying that he proposed it.

I do not think that the either-or question was really well formed because library fees are a simple matter (although not a wise move in my opinion) whereas organising health care is a much more complex matter with priorisations etc. I do not know what I would have answered.

But to be honest, I did not find it to be the most stylish response from Niinistö to mention that Halonen as the foreign minister fought strongly for expensive embassies. I share Halonen´s view in saying that we need proper facilities and if one has seen the embassy in question (Berlin), I think it speaks for itself.

In my comments I was trying to point out that I think both campaign slip at times.

Niko said...

Well. The difference is that the embassy issue is true (or at least not even Halonen did argue otherwise) while the library fee issue was not.

And I didn't argue that you were saying Niinistö having proposed the fees. I just reminded that he actually didn't as that was not told in your post.

But it's over now and we still have six years of Halonen's reign. Of course I'm disappointed but that's democracy.