Incumbent President Tarja Halonen remains the clear leader in opinion polls, a month before the Finnish presidential election, with indications that she would win outright in a first round of voting. A survey, conducted by Research International, gave Halonen 58 percent support over chief rivals Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, with 19 percent, and former Finance Minister Sauli Niinisto, with 18 percent. The latest opinion poll, released late Wednesday by Finland's leading commercial TV station MTV3, was conducted during the first two weeks of December. More than 1,200 people took part in the survey, which had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
If none of the eight candidates wins more than 50 percent of the votes in the Jan. 15 election, a second round will be held in February between the two who gained the most votes in the first round.
Halonen, 61, has been the country's most popular head of state since independence in 1917, commanding huge support across party lines, with opinion polls often giving her more than 60 percent support. A former foreign minister and longtime lawmaker, she became the country's first female president in 2000.
If re-elected, Halonen will be the only president to be chosen for two terms since direct election was introduced in 1994. Previously, a 300-member electoral college, appointed by political parties, voted for the president.
Besides Vanhanen, who heads the center-left government, and Niinisto of the main opposition Conservative Party, Halonen faces candidates from several small parties each with 1-2 percent support in recent opinion polls, reports the AP. I.L.
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