Halonen, Tarja (Finland)
The first woman president in Finnish history, Tarja Kaarina Halonen served two presidential terms from 2000–12. A member of parliament from 1979 until her election to the presidency, she also served as a minister in three governments from 1987. From 1995–2000 she was the country’s foreign minister.
Tarja Halonen was born on 24 Dec. 1943. She was educated at the University of Helsinki where she received a degree in law. She was actively involved in student politics and served as the general secretary for the National Union of Finnish Students. From 1970–74 she was a lawyer with the central organization of Finnish Trade Unions. In 1974 she became the parliamentary secretary to prime minister Kalevi Sorsa, holding this position until Sorsa’s term ended in 1975. Halonen was then elected to the Helsinki City council in 1977 (remaining a councillor until 1996) and 2 years later was elected a member of the Finnish parliament. She was chairman of the parliamentary social affairs committee (from 1984–87) before being appointed minister of social affairs and health. She went on to hold two further ministerial positions, serving as minister for Nordic co-operation (1989–91) and minister of justice (1990–91), before becoming the minister of foreign affairs in April 1995. In this role she oversaw Finland’s assimilation into the European Union. In Jan. 2000 Halonen stood for election as the Social Democratic Party candidate for the presidency, campaigning on a liberal and feminist manifesto. She received 51.6% of the total votes cast in the second round of the presidential elections on 6 Feb. 2000, narrowly defeating the Centre Party’s Esko Aho.
On the day of her inauguration, a new national constitution came into effect which reduced presidential powers and expanded and emphasized parliament as the most important body in the Finnish political system. The president was still granted a significant role in foreign policy, a fact which suited Halonen’s diplomatic and linguistic skills. She continued her country’s pro-European Union policies, although her position on NATO was less certain.
In Nov. 2005 the SDP nominated Halonen for re-election as its presidential candidate. Having failed to secure a majority in the first round of voting, she narrowly defeated the Conservative candidate, Sauli Niinistö, in a run-off in Jan. 2006.
In June 2010 Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen stood down as leader of the Centre Party and was succeeded by Mari Kiviniemi, who was sworn in by Halonen as the new premier.
Ineligible to run in the 2012 presidential elections owing to term limits, Halonen left office on 1 March 2012. She was succeeded by Sauli Niinistö.