Finland presidential election: Alexander Stubb and Pekka Haavisto into next round

Voter turnout was 74.9 per cent, up from 69.9 per cent from election in 2018

Powered by automated translation

Alexander Stubb of Finland's centre-right National Coalition Party will face Green Party member Pekka Haavisto in a run-off after narrowly winning the first round of the country's presidential election on Sunday.

Mr Stubb came first with 27.2 per cent support, followed by Mr Haavisto on 25.8 per cent, and nationalist Jussi Halla-aho third with 19.0 per cent support after all votes had been counted.

The run-off vote is scheduled for February 11.

"You know what, we made it to the final but the competition will only begin now," Mr Stubb, a former prime minister, told his supporters.

His rival for the second round, former foreign minister Mr Haavisto, is a human rights defender who has worked also as a peace negotiator.

"Now our task is to reach those whose candidate is not in the second round," Mr Haavisto said in a speech to his supporters.

Voter turnout was 74.9 per cent, official data showed, up from 69.9 per cent in the last presidential election in 2018.

Finland looks for leader focused on foreign policy

Finland's president leads on foreign and security policy in close co-operation with the government and represents the country at Nato meetings, while also acting as a commander-in-chief of the Finnish Defence Forces.

The new president will take the helm of Finland's foreign and security policy from incumbent Sauli Niinisto, who is retiring after two consecutive six-year terms.

Mr Stubb and Mr Haavisto are supporters of Ukraine and have called for tough measures against Russia.

During their electoral campaigns, Mr Stubb and Mr Haavisto steered towards the political middle, while Mr Halla-aho maintained his right-wing conservative profile.

In Helsinki one advance voter, Leena Boksha, 26, said it was particularly important to vote this time because of the war in Ukraine and the difficult situation it created.

She said Mr Stubb, regarded by Finns as a cosmopolitan pro-European, was the right person to lead the country's foreign policy.

"I voted Alexander Stubb because I think he's very good at dealing with other countries and he has a good relationship with people outside Finland," said Ms Boksha, who was out with her baby to accompany a friend to vote on Sunday.

Jere Markkinen, 22, a student in mechanical engineering, had a different view.

"I don't think he [Stubb] would be a very good president because he doesn't seem like he wants to represent the people, he wants to represent himself," Mr Markkinen said.

He said he had voted for Mr Haavisto in advance.

"He is experienced in foreign politics and is known for generally acting smart, unlike some other candidates," Mr Markkinen said.

The Nordic country's admission to Nato last year drew threats of "counter measures" from its much larger neighbour.

In December, Finland closed its entire border with Russia to passenger traffic in response to a surge in migrants trying to cross. Moscow denied Finnish charges that it was sending the migrants.

First Finnish Nato president

Mr Stubb, 55, is a pro-European fiscal conservative, who described himself as "moderate" in an interview with Reuters before the election.

He said the next president would not only be the first Finnish Nato president, but also "a western president in many ways", calling for a leaning towards countries such as the US, the UK and Finland's Nordic neighbours in foreign policy.

"I think that Finns are searching for a new-era president," Mr Stubb told public broadcaster Yle on Sunday.

Mr Haavisto, who was runner-up to Mr Niinisto in 2018 and 2012, led Mr Stubb in polls for months, but the tide turned in December.

During the electoral campaign, candidates have competed in setting the toughest stance against Russia –which does not benefit Mr Haavisto, who is known as a left-leaning liberal – University of Helsinki political scientist Johanna Vuorelma told Reuters before the election.

"In the discourse on border measures, there is clearly a hardening so that the human rights perspective is pretty much on the margin at the moment," Ms Vuorelma said.

"I would see that this setup benefits right-wing conservatives more than left-wing liberals."

She said Mr Haavisto was among the candidates who have had to seek a harder line to appear credible.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 9:21 AM