Centre Party politician Vanhanen’s formal declaration to contest the presidency now held by the National Coalition Party’s Sauli Niinistö came during the Centre Party’s annual congress in Seinäjoki over the weekend. Niinistö has not yet said whether he will run for a second term.
The former prime minister is the first to declare his candidacy. It’s not his first rodeo though, as he was also a candidate in the 2006 election, when as prime minister he challenged incumbent Tarja Halonen during a short campaign. Halonen went on to win a second term.
Vanhanen said that his decision to enter the race this early aims to give voters a chance for a thorough discussion of Finland’s foreign and security policy - an area that is still the President’s responsibility, in conjunction with the Council of State or cabinet.
Chequered political past
The usually phlegmatic Vanhanen was prime minister and party leader from 2003 to 2007. His second term in office from 2007 came to a premature end in 2010 when he stepped down at the party's annual congress, citing the need for surgery.
However he had been beleaguered by relentless media scrutiny over a prominent court case in which he sued a publisher for invasion of privacy following release of a salacious tell-all novel about his relationship with a former girlfriend.
He and the party had also been beset by a campaign funding scandal that came to light in 2008. In 2010, Vanhanen came under investigation for potential conflict of interest during his time in Parliament, when he presided over funding decisions for an organisation that had contributed to his presidential campaign. Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee decided not to prosecute.
Vanhanen returned to politics in 2015 when he was elected to Parliament on a Centre Party ticket.