Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb wins Finnish presidency, narrowly defeating former diplomat Pekka Haavisto

National Coalition Party (NCP) presidential candidate Alexander Stubb attends an election reception in Helsinki, Finland, on February 11, 2024.

Magazine photo | Via Reuters

Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb won Sunday’s Finnish election runoff against former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto in a tight race for the presidency and the job of leading the Nordic country’s foreign and security policy now that it is a member of NATO , following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Counting all the votes, the centre-right candidate Stubb of the National Coalition Party received 51.6% of the votes, while the independent candidate Haavisto of the green left received 48.4% of the votes.

The 55-year-old Stubb, who was prime minister from 2014 to 2015 and began his political career as a member of the European Parliament in 2004, will become Finland’s 13th president since the Nordic country’s independence from the Russian Empire in 1917.

Haavisto conceded defeat after a projection was released on Sunday evening by Finnish public broadcaster YLE showing a Stubb victory. He shook Stubb’s hand and congratulated him at Helsinki City Hall, where candidates and the media were watching the results.

The months-long election campaign was polite and non-confrontational, in line with consensus-driven Finnish politics, with no low-key attacks from any of the candidates – something Stubb noted in his speech to Haavisto.

“It was a fair, fantastic race,” Stubb told Haavisto after the result was clear. “I’m proud to have been able to run with you in this election. Thanks for a great run.”

Stubb and Haavisto, 65, were the main contenders in the election in which more than 4 million eligible voters chose the successor to hugely popular President Sauli Niinistö, whose second six-year term expires in March. He was not eligible for re-election.

Sunday’s runoff was necessary because none of the nine original candidates received more than half the votes in the first round on Jan. 28. Stubb emerged in first place with 27.3%, Haavisto was second with 25.8%.

Several polls indicated that Stubb, who also served as Finland’s minister for foreign affairs, finance and European affairs, was the favorite to win the presidency.

The initial turnout was 70.7%, significantly lower than in the first round of voting when it was 75%.

Unlike most European countries, the president of Finland holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy together with the government, especially with regards to countries outside the European Union such as the United States, Russia and China.

During the election campaign, Stubb and Haavisto largely agreed on Finland’s foreign policy and security priorities. These include maintaining a hard line towards Moscow and the current Russian leadership, strengthening security ties with Washington, and the need to help Ukraine both militarily and civilianly. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia.

The head of state also commands the army, which is particularly important in the current European security context and the changed geopolitical situation of Finland, which joined NATO in April 2023 following Russia’s attack on Ukraine a year earlier .

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was among the first foreign dignitaries to send “sincere congratulations” to Stubb, a staunch Kiev supporter, on his victory.

Zelensky said in a message on advance our relations and our shared vision of a free, united and well-defended Europe”.

The Finnish president is expected to remain above the fray of day-to-day politics and largely keep out of domestic political disputes.

Haavisto 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 passionate environmentalist, this was his third run for president.

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