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Finnish President Fails to Win Majority in Re-Election Bid

Finland's left-leaning president — the Nordic country's first female head of state — failed to win enough votes to secure re-election Sunday, forcing a runoff against a conservative challenger.

President Tarja Halonen won 46 percent, according to final results, well ahead of her main challenger but short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff in the country that prides itself on egalitarian values and was the first in Europe to give women the vote a century ago.

"It's a pity ... but it's no use to complain," said Halonen, who is seeking a second six-year term.

The second-place finisher, Sauli Niinisto, won 24 percent of the vote.

Halonen, a former trade union lawyer, was elected president in 2000. She was a Social Democratic lawmaker for more than two decades and served as foreign minister for five years.

She bears a resemblance to the redheaded late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien, who has been promoting her re-election bid on his show as part of a running joke about their supposed physical similarities.

In one show, O'Brien presented a mock ad for Halonen in which he and two Finns discussed the election while ice fishing.

When they talk about Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, a rival candidate who finished third Sunday with just under 19 percent, a dead fish shoots out of the hole in the ice, prompting a joke about how the mention of his name makes fish commit suicide.

"Fish recognize a bad leader," O'Brien says in broken Finnish, to laughter from his studio crowd.

The other five candidates representing small parties each had less than 4 percent of the vote Sunday.

The Finnish head of state has few powers and is not involved in daily politics. There was wide agreement in the campaign on foreign policy, the main domain of the president, whose powers are limited to working in close cooperation with the prime minister and government.

Both Halonen and Niinisto said they approved of Finland's 1995 membership of the EU, its good ties with neighboring Russia and close cooperation with NATO.

It was the third time that Finns were able to vote directly for a president since 1994. An electoral college of lawmakers and politicians previously chose the head of state.