Alexander Stubb (55 years old), candidate of the conservative Kokoomus party, with the vote count still to be completed, is positioning himself to become the new president of Finland in the second round of the presidential elections on Sunday. Stubb started as a favorite in the polls that gave him a narrow margin against the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pekka Haavisto, who presented himself as an independent despite being affiliated with the Green Party. With 98% of the count, Stubb would have won the second round of the presidential elections with 51.7% of the votes, compared to the 48.3% achieved by Haavisto, according to the public broadcaster YLE.
The presidential elections in Finland had not aroused the interest that these elections have raised for years, both nationally and internationally. In an election clearly marked by the recent entry of the Nordic country into NATO, the two candidates in the second round have shown themselves with very similar positions on foreign policy issues, marked by unwavering support for Ukraine and maintaining a position firm against the current Kremlin.
These elections have had significant relevance since, unlike in other European countries, the figure of the president of Finland is not merely representative. Instead, the presidential office has only gained political weight since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. As its main function in the next six years, Stubb will be in charge of directing the Nordic country’s foreign policy together with the government, except of the affairs of the European Union, which are managed by the prime minister. National security powers also fall to the presidential figure, who, at the same time, is the senior commander of the armed forces. Furthermore, since Finland became a member of NATO last year, Stubb will be the one to represent Helsinki’s interests at defense alliance meetings.
In this way, the new president of the Nordic country now has the responsibility of replacing former president Sauli Niinistö after twelve years of mandate marked by the increase in tensions with Russia and the strengthening of military and defense collaboration with NATO countries. . Historically, the president of Finland has been in charge of maintaining cordial diplomatic relations between Russia and the Atlantic alliance bloc. In fact, Niinistö has surely been the head of European government who has met with Vladimir Putin the most times in recent years, but he is also one of the figures who have expressed himself most forcefully in rejecting the invasion of Ukraine. But since this Sunday’s elections, Finnish foreign policy has entered a new stage that the new president will have to lead.
Foreign policy and security, key issues in the elections
In this context, national security has been the key issue of the elections, and specifically, the threat posed by Moscow. The Finns, in addition to being outraged by the invasion of Ukraine, are concerned about the increase in immigrants arriving through Russia, which has led the Nordic country to completely close the border in the east of the country since last month. from December. In this way, the presidential election campaign has not been at all marked by the typical debates of the country’s internal politics (such as economic stagnation or union strikes), but rather the candidates have focused on the position towards Russia and the country’s new role within NATO. In this sense, it has been difficult to find differences between the two candidates who went to the second round, since fundamentally the two have agreed on most foreign policy issues.
A different profile, but the same foreign policy
However, political experts and analysts have highlighted that the character, personality and political experience of the candidates have been much more relevant factors for voters.
In this way, with Alexander Stubb, Finland has elected a president with a tougher profile, representative of the liberal wing of the conservative party that now governs. The political science researcher at the University of Tampere, Aino Tiihonen, in an interview for Diario.es pointed out that Stubb puts more emphasis on “the EU and Finland’s relations with the United States, while Haavisto has focused on mediation peace and the United Nations. Tiihonen also notes that Stubb “maintains a more NATO-focused stance.” In fact, during the campaign, Stubb has been more open to the possibility of Finland permanently hosting NATO troops, or nuclear weapons being transported or stored in the country, while Haavisto has positioned himself categorically against These points.
Stubb is a well-known political figure in the circles of the European Union institutions, as he has been recognized as a true believer in supporting EU enlargement and deepening cooperation between member states. His political career began 20 years ago as a member of the European Parliament. After this stage, he returned to Finland where he held several ministerial positions, and briefly, the position of prime minister between 2014 and 2015. After this period, Stubb went on to hold a position at the European Investment Bank, and in the In recent years he has been away from politics. Stubb himself has stated that the decision to return to the political front line and run as a candidate was marked by his concern about Russia’s attack on Ukraine. In an interview with Reuters a month ago, Stubb noted that “Politically I would not have any relationship with the president of Russia or with any Russian political leader until the war in Ukraine is over.” His tough-guy image has also been reinforced by Stubb’s passion for physically demanding sports, such as triathlon. Furthermore, the new president also likes to talk about his and his family’s patriotism on Instagram and TikTok, often mentioning that his son is currently serving in the military in the city of Raseborg.
On the other hand, Peeka Haavisto during the campaign has presented himself as the environmentalist candidate and defender of a less belligerent but equally tough diplomacy with Russia. Haavisto was the third time he had run as a candidate in the presidential elections since 2012. This time, his political credentials were having been Foreign Minister during the previous government of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, which dealt with the country’s accession in NATO. But Haavisto was also known for his role as a DJ in his private life and for being married to the hairdresser of Ecuadorian origin, Antonio Flores. Precisely, according to a survey by the University of Helsinki, a third of Finns surveyed said they did not vote for him because of his sexual orientation, an issue that has caused a widespread stir in the country’s media.
The person who was eliminated from the electoral race in the first round on January 28 was the candidate of the Finns party, Jussi Halla-aho. There had been speculation about the possibility that the far-right, anti-immigration party that is currently part of the government could advance to the second round of the elections. However, his controversial candidate Halla-aho, a populist and eurosceptic, was eliminated in the first round after coming in third place with 19 percent of the votes.