Finland's next president will be a pro-European globalist © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People vote in advance during the second round of the Finnish presidential election at a store in Espoo, Finland, on the last day of advance voting, February 6, 2024. Lehtikuva/Antti Aimo-Koivistovia REUTERS


By Anne Kauranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Whichever of the two remaining candidates wins Finland’s presidential election on Sunday, the country’s new head of foreign and security policy will be a pro-European cosmopolitan and strong supporter of Ukraine.

He will take on the role from incumbent Sauli Niinisto, who is retiring, in a new era for the country within NATO after it broke with decades of non-alignment to join the Western defence alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finland’s president works in close cooperation with the government and represents the country at NATO meetings, while also acting as a Commander-in-Chief of Finnish Defence Forces.

Former prime minister Alexander Stubb, of the National Coalition Party, narrowly won the first round of voting on Jan. 28, and leads former foreign minister, centre-left liberal Pekka Haavisto, by 6-8 percentage points in the polls.

“Both are characteristically urban candidates and they both have a strong international profile,” the head of Finland’s Centre for Parliamentary Studies Markku Jokisipila said.

Jokisipila said centre-right Stubb is the clear frontrunner, based on current poll support that shows around one third of the electorate back leftist and green political parties while the rest are more or less conservatively oriented.

If Haavisto, running for president for a third time, achieves a surprise win, he would become Finland’s first openly gay president. His sexual orientation remains a factor for voters, however, with recent polls showing one in three saw the fact that he has a male partner as a reason not to back him.


During the campaign, Stubb has steered away from his earlier EU federalism to appeal to a broader audience, while remaining “internationally oriented” and in favour of deep NATO cooperation, University of Helsinki political scientist Johanna Vuorelma said.

While Green Party member Haavisto said he would stick to Finland’s current legislation which unambiguously prohibits nuclear weapons on Finnish territory, Stubb would allow their transportation but not storage in Finland.

“Stubb stands ready to go deeper into all the cores of NATO,” the Centre for Parliamentary Studies’ Jokisipila said.

He pointed out that Stubb also supports the idea of having permanent NATO troops positioned in the country, unlike Haavisto, who has said he sees no need.

The question of the limits of Finland’s NATO role has been in the spotlight after the country signed a defence cooperation agreement with the U.S. in December, giving the U.S. military unimpeded access to 15 facilities and areas in Finland, where it can also store military equipment and ammunition.

Finland shares a 1,340-km (830-mile) border with Russia, which objected to the defence pact. Moscow called it “an obvious threat to us” and said it would not “leave unanswered the buildup of NATO military potential on our border”.

Supporters of nationalist Finns Party candidate Jussi Halla-aho, eliminated in the first round after receiving 19% of the vote, may be alienated by both remaining candidates’ international orientation, Vuorelma said.

“It could mean that many Finns Party supporters will refrain from voting, partially in protest and some because both candidates are so similar that the outcome doesn’t really matter to them,” she said.


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