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Pekka Haavisto (right) with partner Antonio Flores in a 2010 television interview (YouTube video still).
Openly gay Green League candidate Pekka Haavisto was defeated for the presidency of Finland in the run-off election on February 5, 2012. Sauli Niinistö of the moderate-right National Coalition Party won with 63% of the votes cast. He will become the first president from a conservative party since 1956 and the first in 30 years from a party other than the center-left Social Democratic Party. He succeeds Tarja Halonen, Finland's first female head of state, who defeated him in the presidential election six years ago.
Haavisto, who was the first Green League member of a European cabinet, worked for the United Nations from 1999 to 2005, principally on environmental issues. He and Niinistö differed little on the issues since both are pro-European Union and both are committed to Finland's constructive participation in helping solve Europe's financial woes.
In true Finnish fashion, the campaign was civil, with both candidates polite and non-confrontational. The two men come from similar affluent backgrounds and share a commitment to gentlemanly conduct.
Haavisto's homosexuality was not raised as an issue in the campaign, but some observers characterized it as "the elephant in the room." It is believed that older voters saw it as a barrier, particularly since the election of Haavisto would have made his young partner, Nexar Antonio Flores, an Ecuadorean immigrant and hair dresser, the President's official consort.
Haavisto, 53, and Flores, 33, have been a couple since 1997, when they met in a gay bar in Bogota, Colombia. After a whirlwind romance featuring a great deal of transAtlantic travel, the men soon plighted a union. They were among the first Finns joined in a registered partnership when they became available in 2002.
Haavisto drew most of his support from younger, urban voters. His campaign relied heavily on social media and utilized rock concerts and flash mobs to raise both money and enthusiasm for his candidacy. Haavisto was widely regarded, even by supporters of his rival, as the more modern and open of the candidates.
Interestingly, the biggest contrast in the campaign came not in the representation of the candidates but in the characterizations of their life partners. A popular magazine profiled the partners of the candidates: its profile of Niinistö's wife, Jenni Haukio, was headlined "Livelier Than Most People Think", while its profile of Haavisto's partner was headlined "Antonio Flores--Irresistible Charmer".
Flores became a favorite topic for tabloids, who honed in on an Ecuadorian arrest for driving under the influence and for an incident in a Helsinki gay bar five years ago, but even the most mainstream of news media seemed fascinated by the romantic story of the courtship of Flores and Haavisto.
One analyst concluded that "Flores is Haavisto's weakest link, but possibly also his strongest asset."
In his victory speech, Niinistö promised to be president of all the Finns, while in conceding defeat Haavisto pledged his support to the new president.
The president of Finland is head of state and has a large number of ceremonial duties, but is not involved in daily politics. He or she has limited powers in domestic affairs but helps shape foreign affairs and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.