Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, leader of the center-right National Coalition, won the second round of the Finnish presidential election this Sunday against Green Party liberal Pekka Haavisto. According to provisional data from the Ministry of Justice and with 99.7% of the ballots counted, Stubb won by a very narrow margin, with 51.6% of the votes, compared to 48.4% for Haavisto. Stubb greeted the results in a subdued tone: “This is the greatest honor of my life. The task of being President of the Republic goes beyond the person,” he said.
The vote marks a new era in Finland, which for decades has elected presidents to foster diplomacy, particularly with neighboring Russia, and has chosen not to join military alliances in order to ease tensions between Moscow and Russia. NATO. The Finns completely changed their foreign, security and defense policy after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and joined the Atlantic Alliance in April last year.
The Finnish head of state exercises certain executive functions in the field of international and security policy, in coordination with the existing government, which is now a coalition of conservatives and the far right led by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, of the same party as Stubb. The president deals with issues related to third countries, such as Russia, China or the United States. He is also the supreme commander of the armed forces and represents Finland at NATO summits.
Stubb, 55, was head of government between 2014 and 2015 and headed three ministries (European Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Economy). He is seen as a cosmopolitan and fervent Europeanist by a large part of the citizenry and, during the campaign, he distanced himself from the far right.
The new president will replace Sauli Niinisto, also from the National Coalition, who is retiring after serving two six-year terms during which he earned the nickname Putin’s whisperer for his close ties with the Russian leader, before becoming one of his fiercest critics. Niinisto’s successor will play a central role in defining Finnish policy towards NATO.
Stubb and Haavisto were the candidates with the most experience in foreign and defense policy among the nine candidates in the first round of the January 28 election. The former Prime Minister then won with 27.2% of the votes, ahead of the environmentalist, with 25.8%. The far-right Finnish Party, the second largest parliamentary force, was far from reaching the second round. Its candidate, Jussi Halla-aho, president of Eduskunta (Parliament), obtained 19% of the votes.
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Both candidates are strong supporters of Ukraine and took a strong stance on Russia during their campaigns. In an interview with Reuters last month, the head of the National Coalition assured that there would be no Russian pillar in Finland’s foreign policy: “Politically, there will be no relations with the President of Russia or with Russian political leaders and until they stop the war in Ukraine. Stubb favors deeper cooperation with NATO, including allowing the transportation of nuclear weapons through Finnish soil and permanently stationing some Alliance troops in Finland.
Russia, which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Finland, has threatened Helsinki with retaliation over its NATO membership and a defense cooperation agreement signed with the United States in December. In addition to the numerous cyberattacks that Finnish authorities accuse the Kremlin of, the Finnish government accuses Russia of being responsible for the arrival of hundreds of asylum seekers from the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and keeps closed the eight border crossings since mid-December. with the neighbor.
Haavisto, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the executive led by the social democrat Sanna Marin, between 2019 and 2023, is the historic leader of the Green League but on this occasion – it is the third time that he present and reaches the second round – he presented himself as an independent to broaden his electorate. Aged 65 and openly gay, he was a UN diplomat and is known for his strong defense of human rights. Haavisto, one of the architects of Finland’s rapid entry into NATO, has defended the continued ban on possessing nuclear weapons on Finnish soil and considers that a permanent deployment of Alliance troops Atlantic is not necessary in the current security situation.