Finns vote for new president who will steer foreign policy

Centre-right Alexander Stubb faces Pekka Haavisto from the green left in Finland’s presidential election.

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Voters in Finland will choose between two experienced politicians to be their next president on Sunday. 

The winner’s main task will be to guide the new NATO member’s foreign and security policy amid Russia’s grinding invasion of Ukraine. 

Former prime minister Alexander Stubb from the centre-right faces former foreign minister Pekka Haavisto of the green left. 

The pair largely agree on Finland’s foreign policy and security priorities. These include maintaining a hard line toward Russia – which shares a sprawling 1,340 km border with Finland – strengthening security ties with the US Washington and helping Ukraine. 

Unlike in most European countries, the president of Finland holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy. 

They do so with the government, especially concerning countries outside the European Union such as the United States, Russia and China.

The head of state also commands the military, particularly important amid Europe’s current security environment and Finland’s changed geopolitical situation, which joined NATO in April 2023. 

A politician with the conservative National Coalition Party, Stubb took the top spot in the first round of the election on Jan. 28 with 27.2% per cent of the votes, ahead of the eight other candidates. 

He is the favourite to win the presidency.

Stubb led the government in 2014-2015 and earlier held several other Cabinet posts.

Haavisto, the runner-up in the first round, was Finland’s top diplomat in 2019-2023 and the main negotiator of its entry into NATO. A former conflict mediator with the United Nations and a devout environmentalist, Haavisto took 25.8% of the votes in the first round.

A runoff was required because none of the candidates got more than half of the votes in Jan. 28’s first round.

More than 4 million people are eligible to vote. The winner will succeed highly popular President Sauli Niinistö, whose second six-year term expires in March. 

Niinistö is not eligible for reelection.