He’s gay, Green and probably not the next President of Finland. Finns are progressive and all but we are just not there yet.
Aside from that, he is a champion for many in a world where Green and gay politicians, not to mention presidential candidates, are a rare treat.
Pekka Haavisto is back in the game after having been overthrown by Sauli Niinistö in the last presidential election six years ago.
A devastating defeat? Yes. A failure? Definitely not.
Rather, a victory – a breaking of glass ceilings of sorts.
Once again, Haavisto is predicted to face off Niinistö as his main challenger. His outlook, it seems, is not what his voters would like it to be.
In 2012, Haavisto made history by becoming the first Green European candidate to make it to the second round of a presidential election.
His second place in the whole election was another remarkable first for Green candidates. Pekka’s success was a triumph for green ideals everywhere, as well as for tolerant and open-minded Finns.
His performance in 2012 paved new ways for other Green party candidates. His result suggested more voters now considered Greens as capable leaders. Although Niinistö’s backing dropped, it looks like he’s receiving the most support from Finnish citizens. However, looking back at recent elections with surprising outcomes, anything is possible.
In order for you to understand who Finland’s possible future president (fingers crossed) is, let’s look back at what he has achieved in life, privately and professionally.
Pekka Olavi Haavisto was born in Helsinki in 1958, where he was raised a liberal by his mother, a chemistry teacher, and his father who was a principal. He boycotted the military, dropped out of university, had a brief career as a journalist and editor, became a politician and a member of parliament, married his current husband Antonio Flores and finally, ran for president.
The President of Finland has joint responsibility over foreign policy matters together with the government. The president also serves as the commander-in-chief of the Finnish defence force. But most importantly, the president is the face of a country to the rest of the world.
The position serves a moral role that needs to be filled by someone competent, calm and charismatic (translation: someone dissimilar to Donald Trump).
Furthermore, a small country, like Finland, must be able to stand its ground to the big rulers and call out injustice when it happens. In Pekka’s words: “we should not just stand by when Trump decides to cut UN funding for women and girls, or when he suggests withdrawing from the Paris Agreement”.
Haavisto is often associated with his work as a peace mediator. In 1999, he began working for the United Nations, where he led the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). He also took part in the Darfur peace discussions as a special representative of the European Union.
The Greens of Finland, which Haavisto helped establish in 1987, are often associated with their work related to environmental matters such as preserving biodiversity, maintaining nature and cleanliness of air and water.
Last year the party appeared in Forbes after publishing a co-written opinion piece that questioned the party’s long-established stance to nuclear power.
The writers said Finland should reconsider the use of nuclear power to provide heating for Finnish households: “Current bio-energy policy is a disaster for both the climate and the Finnish nature,” the article read, and went to claim that when done right, nuclear power plants are low in emissions and safe to use. “Currently, it is completely clear that getting rid of fossil fuels is the most important goal,” they wrote.
The controversy around nuclear power plants is an on-going debate between those who fear the power of a nuclear disaster similar to Chernobyl and Fukushima and those who worry about what will happen to the Earth if we don’t use nuclear power.
In parliament Haavisto has voted against building more nuclear plants. He believes Finnish companies should invest in renewable energy such as biomass, solar power, geothermal heating and wind power. He won’t hesitant to hold on to his opinion despite what others in his own party may think or feel.
In light of the new animal welfare law, out of the eight other presidential candidates, Haavisto was the only one who properly addressed the health and living conditions of farmed animals in Finland. “Animals should have any space to move around, the right to spend time outside all year around and sufficient feed and water,” he said. He was also one of the three candidates who voted in favour for ending fur farming in Finland.
In addition, he has vowed to care for the environment, fight global warming and prioritise Finnish foreign and security policy – all matters that young people in Finland worry about the most, according to nuorisobarometri2016.
Some suggest Haavisto’s success is a result of him down-playing his green credentials and reaching out to new voters outside the Green ‘bubble’.
Others would say his long-standing experience makes him a trustworthy and secure candidate. In addition to being easy on both eyes and ears, Haavisto’s approachable personality, control of difficult issues and ability to articulate his opinion have gained him supporters.
A survey from last year’s municipal elections shows that 18-29 year olds favour The Green Party over other parties while the last presidential election results found that Haavisto was most-liked among young people. I contacted a few millennials in an effort to find out more about why young people vote for Pekka.
Tuomi Honkanen, 21, will be voting in the presidential elections for the first time ever. Her admiration for Pekka began in 2012 – the first time he ran for president.
“Haavisto has long standing experience working with human rights issues and peace policy abroad. I appreciate Pekka for his position in The Koijärvi Movement (a Finnish environmental movement that started in the spring of 1979 with an aim to prevent the draining of lake Koijärvi, an important bird habitat) and the environmental work he has always done.”
Honkanen would like to ask Pekka what he thinks would be the best option to solve the refugee crisis.
Similarly to Honkanen, Mimmi Mylly, 21, thinks Haavisto’s experience, especially in international politics, is a winning quality. “I think Pekka would be a presentable, knowledgeable and skilled head of state and front man in a modern Finland” she said.
Like Haavisto, Mylly identifies with the LGBTQ+ community and wants to support Finland’s first gay presidential candidate. Mylly would want to know whether Pekka thinks Finland should stop selling weapons to conflict areas. She would also like to know his thoughts on Brexit.
Theo, 21, thinks Haavisto will focus on the right things as president, such as environmental problems and equality on a global scale. “He also has a good/wide view of the world and actually knows whats happening all over the world, not only Europe and Russia,” he said. He would ask Haavisto what his plans are when it comes to fighting environmental issues in Finland and globally, and whether Finland should take more responsibility when it comes to environmental matters.
Another student, who is 21 but didn’t want to be named, said she will be casting her vote to Haavisto because of his important international connections. She also thinks of him as down-to-earth, open and internationally cooperative and representable. “We have discussed Pekka’s sexuality a lot amongst friends, and whether the world is “ready” to accept him and his husband as the presidential couple. For example, in Russia people can be quite intolerant. I would like to ask Pekka whether his sexuality has affected his career and political relations,” she said.
Kasper, 20, was first planning to vote for Niinistö, but changed his mind after seeing Pekka’s ad on Facebook asked “How is it possible for a man who hasn’t finished the army to be leading the defence forces?” He also finds Pekka’s work as a mediator important, and would like to know how what kind of projects Pekka would run in order to better Finland’s position as a peace mediator.
Although the last election polls suggested that some voters didn’t want a gay president, and so decided to vote for Niinistö, for many Finns, Haavisto offers a new and fresh alternative to the same faces that have been roaming around in the past Finnish Presidential elections for several years.
It remains to see whether Finns have grown more tolerant and environmentally friendly in the past six years.
Featured image by Sara Silvennoinen