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Presidential candidate piles on pressure for public pre-election debate

Ex-Prime Minister and former Centre Party chair Matti Vanhanen has been turning the screws on President Sauli Niinistö in a bid to force a public debate ahead of next January’s presidential election. Niinistö has been reluctant to agree to an early debate, noting that his predecessor Tarja Halonen didn’t participate in one until the autumn before the poll.

Matti Vanhanen
Matti Vanhanen Image: Jarno Kuusinen / AOP

Centre Party presidential candidate and ex-premier Matti Vanhanen continues to lob verbal salvos at incumbent President Sauli Niinistö in a bid to engineer a public debate involving all candidates in the presidential election.

Finnish voters go to the polls next January to elect a new president, but Vanhanen has called for a public debate now and is insisting that Niinistö participate. On Wednesday, the daily Aamulehti reported that Vanhanen has invited other candidates to join him in a debate in August in Salo, southwest Finland. He made it clear that he expects sitting president Sauli Niinistö to also attend.

For his part, Niinistö has pointed out that his predecessor, Tarja Halonen, did not take the floor in any public debates until October – just a few months before the election. He has also suggested that voters are likely to get election fatigue from a long campaign and might not necessarily be interested in an early debate.

Already campaigning, but no debates

The President has also implied that he will not begin his formal re-election campaign until after Independence Day on 6 December. However Vanhanen scoffed at that assertion.

"In other words he would only have a month-long campaign. Now after this criticism he announced that he would be prepared to participate in October," Vanhanen said in an interview with Yle’s Ykkösaamu radio programme on Friday.

Vanhanen said that the difference between 12 years ago when Tarja Halonen ran for re-election and today, is that Niinistö’s campaign organisation has already swung into action.

"They are campaigning, but the candidate himself doesn’t want to step up for a public debate," the ex-PM remarked.

Vanhanen said he was at a loss to understand Niinistö’s decision to run as a representative of a constituents’ association, rather than the National Coalition Party, as he did when first elected.

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