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Finland’s President Seeks Equality

February 7, 2000

HELSINKI, Finland (AP) _ Tarja Halonen, elected Finland’s first female president, is known for her down-to-earth style and her sympathy for the downtrodden.

The jovial, red-haired Halonen, who will begin her six-year term on March 1, launched her victory speech Sunday cautioning her enthusiastic supporters to take care not to trample several small children up front.

Foreign minister since 1995, Halonen was on the Helsinki City Council for 20 years and has been a lawmaker since 1979. She has held several other ministerial posts and has a reputation for getting things done.

Some pundits had predicted that the 56-year-old Social Democrat’s left-wing tendencies and untraditional lifestyle would work against her. But many Finns said they admired her independence.

``I’m voting for Halonen because of her values, and she has a lot of experience,″ said Pekka Mikkonen, 36, a computer maintenance worker.

The former trade union lawyer is divorced and lives with her longtime boyfriend, Pentti Arajarvi, who will be moving with her to the presidential residence. Halonen also has a daughter, Anna, who lives in England.

Arajarvi said he was proud of Halonen and ready for the change.

``Every time a woman wins something in our society, it’s a great victory for them. Even though our society is fairly egalitarian, there are still things to improve,″ he said.

Halonen tried to place her win in a historical context.

``In 2005, Finns will celebrate 100 years of women’s voting rights, and I think it’s great and fitting that then we’ll have a woman as president,″ she said.

Halonen has also supported minority groups and headed Finland’s Gay Association. She left the Evangelical Lutheran Church _ to which 85 percent of Finns belong _ to protest its policy of not ordaining women and taxing church members.

``She will be a caring president which is very important in our society, where the rich are getting richer,″ said Suvi-Anne Siimes, head of the Left Alliance, a member of the coalition government.

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