Tarja Halonen was voted in as president at the beginning of 2000. She is described in political terms as a Social Democrat, with an intellectual humanist approach to life and the desire to find practical means to improve the society around her. She is called a “pragmatic idealist”. She is probably the most left-wing head of state the nation has ever seen.
She was born and bred in Helsinki, though she lived on the “wrong side of the tracks” in an area that is considered to be very working class. As a girl she suffered a serious speech impediment, which still affects her slightly even today. She grew up learning to be tolerant and sensitive to the “differences” of others—especially those less fortunate than herself. She has always had a life-long interest in human rights and minority issues, and has played an active role in many civil rights associations. She is viewed as kind, tolerant, successful but slightly bohemian! She is extremely competent and very ambitious, and can be impatient and occasionally displays a flash of temper.
Tarja Halonen began her career as a trade union lawyer, was appointed as a parliamentary private secretary in 1974 and then accepted a junior ministerial position in the 1980s. She became Foreign Minister in the Government of Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen. Her traditional leftist views are in stark contrast to those of Prime Minister Lipponen, whose political ideology leans more towards a market-led social democracy. When elected president at the beginning of the year 2000, as is customary in Finnish politics, she resigned her party membership.
The president was the mother of a 21-year-old daughter, studying in England, at the time of her election. She has a “companion” as the Finns say, of long-standing whom she recently married. Although they had separate flats in the same building because of “differing views on housekeeping”, they both moved into the presidential residence of Mantyniemi. Finland easily got used to having such an unusual “first family”.