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Alexander Stubb wins first round of Finland’s presidential vote to set up runoff

Alexander Stubb and Pekka Haavisto (Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva/AP)
Alexander Stubb and Pekka Haavisto (Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva/AP)

Former prime minister Alexander Stubb won the first round of Finland’s presidential election on Sunday and will face runner-up ex-foreign minister Pekka Haavisto in a runoff next month.

The vote centred on the Nordic country’s new role as a Nato frontline country with Russia, and the security situation in Europe.

With all the votes counted, Mr Stubb led the first round with 27.2% of the votes, while Mr Haavisto, Finland’s top diplomat in 2019-2023, took second place with 25.8%.

Parliamentary Speaker Jussi Halla-aho came in third with 19%, followed by Bank of Finland governor Olli Rehn with 15.3%.

The first-round election result will be officially confirmed on Tuesday. The result will push the race into a runoff on February 11 between Mr Stubb and Mr Haavisto, because none of the candidates received more than half of the votes.

“Getting such a result together with the team is heartwarming. I am grateful and humbled by it,” Mr Stubb told reporters and his supporters in an election party at a Helsinki restaurant, adding that he was not planning major changes in his campaign for the second round of voting.

Finland Presidential Election
A man casts his ballot during the presidential election in Helsinki (Sergei Grits/AP)

Mr Stubb, 55, and Mr Haavisto, 65, were the main contenders in the election.

About 4.5 million eligible voters picked a successor out of nine candidates to hugely popular President Sauli Niinisto, whose second six-year term expires in March. He was not eligible for re-election.

Polls across the country closed at 8pm (1800 GMT). Initial voter turnout was 74.9%.

Mr Stubb represents the conservative National Coalition Party and headed the Finnish government in 2014-2015, while veteran politician Mr Haavisto, an ex-UN diplomat and Green League member, is running for the post for the third time as an independent candidate.

Unlike in most European countries, the president of Finland holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy, particularly when dealing with countries outside the European Union like the United States, Russia and China.

The president also acts as the supreme commander of the Finnish military, a particularly important duty in Europe’s current security environment.

The main themes of the election were foreign and security policy issues like Finland’s recent membership of Nato, future policies toward Russia, enhancing security co-operation with the United States and the need to continue helping Ukraine both militarily and with humanitarian assistance.

Finland’s new head of state will start a six-year term in March in a markedly different geopolitical and security situation in Europe than did incumbent Mr Niinisto after the 2018 election.

Abandoning decades of military nonalignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland became Nato’s 31st member in April, much to the annoyance of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which shares a 832-mile border with the Nordic country.

Nato membership, which has made Finland the western military alliance’s front-line country toward Russia, and the war raging in Ukraine a mere 1,000 600 miles away from Finland’s border have boosted the president’s status as a security policy leader.

As foreign minister, Mr Haavisto signed Finland’s historic accession treaty to Nato last year and played a key role in the membership process along with Mr Niinisto and former prime minister Sanna Marin.

Finland’s western neighbour Sweden will join Nato in the near future as the final holdout, Hungary, is expected to ratify Stockholm’s bid by the end of February.