Voters in Finland are choosing Sunday between two experienced politicians to be their next president, 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.
Former prime minister Alexander Stubb, 55, on the center right, and former foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, 65, from the green left, largely agree 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.
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% percent of the votes, ahead of the eight other candidates, and is the favorite to win the presidency.
Stubb led the government in 2014-2015 and earlier held several other Cabinet posts.
Haavisto, the runnerup 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.