11 Feb 2024, 13:43

Finland elects president in new geopolitical landscape

HELSINKI, Feb 11, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Two seasoned politicians face off in 
Finland's presidential election on Sunday, with the president's role having 
gained importance in light of the country's NATO membership and rising 
tensions with neighbouring Russia.

Some 4.3 million voters will have to choose between former conservative prime 
minister Alexander Stubb and ex-foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, a Green 
Party MP running as an independent.

The changing geopolitical landscape in Europe will be the main concern for 
the new head of state, who -- while having limited powers compared to the 
prime minister -- leads the country's foreign policy together with the 
government and also acts as supreme commander of Finland's armed forces. 

Relations between Moscow and Helsinki deteriorated following Russia's 2022 
invasion of Ukraine, prompting Finland to drop decades of military non-
alignment and join NATO in April 2023.

Russia, with whom Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border, swiftly 
warned of "countermeasures".
"The fact that we've just joined NATO has a lot of significance because the 
building of the NATO institution in Finland and what it will look like will 
largely be a task for the new president," Theodora Helimaki, doctoral 
researcher in political science at the University of Helsinki, told AFP. 

"The top two were perhaps the most experienced in terms of foreign policy," 
she added regarding the first round.

- Radio silence -

Stubb came out ahead in the first round on January 28 with 27.2 percent of 
votes, while Haavisto came in a close second with 25.8 percent of the vote -- 
qualifying them for the second round.

An opinion poll by public broadcaster Yle published on Thursday saw Stubb 
getting 54 percent of the vote, compared to 46 percent for Haavisto.

In the post-Cold War period, Helsinki maintained good relationships with 

Outgoing president Sauli Niinisto, first elected in 2012, once prided himself 
on his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin before becoming one 
of his most trenchant critics. 

Niinisto contacted him directly to announce the decision to join NATO.

Since then, there has been radio silence and neither candidate is expecting a 
phone call from the Kremlin if they win the election. 





In August 2023, Finland observed an influx of migrants entering through its 
eastern border without visas. 

Helsinki claimed Moscow was pushing the migrants to destabilise it, and in 
response closed their border in November -- a move supported by both 

Stubb and Haavisto, who have both served as foreign minister, share similar 
visions for the country's position towards Russia, calling for additional 
sanctions against Moscow and support for Ukraine. 

"The European Union can do much more to help Ukraine," Haavisto said during a 
televised debate on Thursday evening.

"Ukraine's road is our road, and at the moment they are fighting for the 
freedom of Europeans. They deserve all the support that we can give to them," 
Stubb agreed.

- Nuclear arms -

For Helimaki, the differences between the candidates come down to nuance on 
certain issues, such as the storage or transport of nuclear weapons in 

Haavisto does not want them on Finnish soil though he recognises that as a 
member of NATO, the Nordic country must take part in exercises relating to 
the alliance's nuclear policy. 

Stubb meanwhile feels that the country should not exclude "any part" of 
NATO's nuclear deterrence.

Given the lack of significant foreign policy differences, voters are likely 
to make their decision based on their political preferences, according to 
Matti Pesu, leading researcher at the Finnish Institute of International 

"While Stubb's liberalism is related to western organisations and western 
values, Haavisto has more of a global emphasis: the UN, peace, development," 
Pesu told AFP. 

When it comes to personality, Stubb comes across as a "kind of modern 
politician and fairly open in how he talks", while Haavisto "is a more 
traditional, more careful Finnish politician."

Voter turnout in the first round was 75 percent and polling stations open at 
9:00 am local time (0700 GMT) and close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).



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