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Former PM Alexander Stubb wins Finnish presidency, narrowly defeating ex-top diplomat Pekka Haavisto

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

Magazine photo | Via Reuters

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

With all votes counted, center-right candidate Stubb of the National Coalition Party won 51.6% of the vote, while independent candidate Haavisto of the green left won 48.4% of the vote. .

Stubb, 55, who was prime minister from 2014 to 2015 and began his political career as a lawmaker in 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 by Finnish public broadcaster YLE showing a Stubb victory was published on Sunday night. He shook Stubb’s hand and congratulated him at Helsinki City Hall, where candidates and the media were watching the results.

The election campaign, which lasted for months, was polite and non-confrontational, in line with consensus-driven Finnish politics, with no hidden attacks from either candidate, something Stubb noted in his speech to Haavisto.

“This was a great, fair race,” Stubb told Haavisto after the result was clear. “I am proud to have been able to compete with you in these elections. Thank you for a good race.”

Stubb and Haavisto, 65, were the leading contenders in the election, in which more than 4 million 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 original nine candidates received more than half of the votes in the Jan. 28 first round. Stubb came out on top with 27.3%, followed by Haavisto with 25.8%.

Several polls indicated that Stubb, who was also Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Finance and European Affairs, was the favorite to win the presidency.

Initial voter turnout was 70.7%, notably lower than in the first round of voting, when it was 75%.

Unlike most European countries, the President of Finland has the executive power to formulate foreign and security policy together with the government, especially in 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 toward Moscow and Russia’s current leadership, strengthening security ties with Washington, and the need to assist Ukraine on both a military and civilian level. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia.

The head of state also commands the military, something particularly important in the current security environment in Europe and the changing geopolitical situation in Finland, which joined NATO in April 2023, following Russia’s attack on Ukraine a year earlier.

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

Zelenskyy said in a message on “. vision of a free, united and well-defended Europe”.

The Finnish president is expected to stay out of everyday politics and largely stay out of internal political disputes.

Haavisto was Finland’s top diplomat in 2019-2023 and the main negotiator of its entry into NATO. A former United Nations conflict mediator and passionate environmentalist, this was his third run for president.

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