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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finns' New Leader Looks to Economy

HELSINKI -- Former U.N. peace broker Martti Ahtisaari has won Finland's first direct presidential election after promising to extend his domain to help solve the country's worst economic troubles in 60 years.

Ahtisaari took 53.9 percent of the vote in Sunday's poll, compared to Defense Minister Elisabeth Rehn's 46.1 percent.

"I would like to see the economy improving and more jobs for the unemployed," said Ahtisaari, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party. "As president I will try to improve the security of the people in every way possible."

Ahtisaari, 56, who led negotiations for Namibia's independence, won a post that traditionally has been limited to foreign policy questions.

But with Finland experiencing record 20 percent unemployment and a deep three-year recession, Ahtisaari campaigned against the economic policy of Prime Minister Esko Aho's center-right coalition.

Aho, of the Center Party, said the result would not affect the government.

"The most important function of the president is to steer foreign policy and his powers are restricted in domestic politics," Aho said.

Ahtisaari and Rehn had no differences on foreign policy. They eagerly support Finland's bid to join the European Union and they want to maintain good relations with Russia, which shares a 1,270-kilometer border with Finland.

"Russia is an important neighbor," Ahtisaari said. "We must help it develop into a working democracy."

Rehn, 58, had to spend campaign time admitting the government's economic errors and trying to overcome traditional discomfort with women in positions of power. As the West's first woman defense minister, Rehn has said she fought to join policy discussions that once occured in all-male sauna sessions.

Rehn, of the Swedish People's Party, which represents 6 percent of the population, had won a surprising 22 percent of the vote in the Jan. 16 voting.

Ahtisaari succeeds President Mauno Koivisto, 70, retiring after two six-year terms. It was Finland's first direct presidential election since independence from Russia in 1917. Previously, voters chose electors, who chose the president.