February 26, 2024

National Coalition Party (NCP) Presidential candidate Alexander Stubb attends his election reception in Helsinki, Finland, on Feb. 11, 2024.

Lehtikuva | Via Reuters

Ex-Prime Minister Alexander Stubb won Finland’s presidential election runoff on Sunday against former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto in a close race between two experienced politicians for the post of head of state, whose main task will be to steer the Nordic country’s foreign and security policy now that it is a member of NATO, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With over 99% of votes counted, center-right candidate Stubb of the conservative National Coalition Party had received 51.6% of the votes, while independent candidate Haavisto from the green left got 48.4% of the votes.

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

Polls across the country closed at 8 p.m. (18:00 GMT).

Haavisto conceded defeat after a projection by the Finnish public broadcaster YLE showing a win for Stubb was released after 9 p.m. He shook Stubb’s hand and congratulated him at Helsinki City Hall, where the candidates and the media were watching the results come in.

Stubb and Haavisto, 65, were the main contenders in the election where over 4 million eligible voters picked a successor to hugely popular President Sauli Niinistö, whose second six-year term expires in March. He wasn’t eligible for reelection.

Sunday’s runoff was required because none of the original nine candidates got more than half of the votes in Jan. 28 first round. Stubb emerged at the top with 27.3%, with Haavisto the runner-up on 25.8%.

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

Initial voter turnout was 70.7%, markedly lower than during the first voting round when it was 75%.

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

Unlike in most European countries, the president of Finland holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy together 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 in Europe’s current security environment and the changed geopolitical situation of Finland, which joined NATO in April 2023 in the aftermath of Russia’s attack on Ukraine a year earlier.

The Finnish president is expected to remain above the fray of day-to-day politics and largely to stay 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 bid for the presidency, running as an independent candidate.

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