Finland elects its president, in the midst of geopolitical turmoil

Finland elects its president, in the midst of geopolitical turmoil

(Helsinki) – Finland will vote Sunday to elect its president, a role that has grown in importance since it joined NATO and tensions with neighboring Russia have risen over the war in Ukraine.


About 4.3 million voters must choose between former conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, who came in first place in the first round on January 28 with 27.2% of the vote, and former diplomat chief Pekka Haavisto, a member of the Green Party, but did not run. Works as a freelancer (25.8%).

The head of state has limited powers compared to the prime minister, is elected for a six-year term, and directs the country's foreign policy in close cooperation with the government. He is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

It is a prominent role that has become more important due to geopolitical developments in Europe and the accession to NATO of Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia.

By remaining neutral during the Cold War, the Scandinavian country, which had long advocated dialogue between the West and Russia, ended three decades of military non-alignment after invading Ukraine.

It became a member of NATO last year, much to the dismay of Russia, which promised to respond with “countermeasures.”

At the end of August, Finland faced an influx of migrants on its eastern border, accusing Moscow of orchestrating a migration crisis on its doorstep. Helsinki closed its borders with its neighbor in November, a measure supported by all candidates.

Strengthening sanctions

“The fact that we have just joined NATO is of great importance,” says Theodora Hilimäki, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, because how NATO is deployed in Finland “will very much matter to the new president.”

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A poll conducted by Yle public television on Thursday showed Mr. Staub with 54% of voting intentions compared to 46% for Mr. Haavisto.

Alexander Stubb and Pekka Haavisto, former foreign ministers, share the same vision on the position that should be taken towards Russia by tightening sanctions against Moscow.

“The European Union can do a lot to help Ukraine,” Pekka Haavisto said during a televised debate on Thursday evening.

“Ukraine’s way is our way, and now they are fighting for the freedom of Europeans. They deserve all the support we can give them,” added Alexander Stubb.

In 2022, outgoing President Sauli Niinistö, elected in 2012 and best known as the current European leader who has spoken regularly with Vladimir Putin, called him directly to announce the decision to join NATO.

Since then, there has been radio silence, and neither candidate expected a phone call from the Kremlin after the election.

Nuclear

The difference between the candidates comes down to nuances, explains researcher Theodora Hilimaki, who cites the issue of storage and transportation of nuclear weapons in Finland.

Pekka Haavisto does not want to let them, even though the northern European country, as a member of NATO, should participate in exercises related to the alliance's nuclear policy.

For his part, Mr. Staub considered that the country should not exclude “any part” of NATO's nuclear deterrence policy.

Matti Piso, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said that since there are no major differences in foreign policy, voters are likely to make their decision based on their political preferences.

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“Mr. Stubb's liberalism is linked to Western organizations and values, while Mr. Haavisto focuses more on the global aspect: the United Nations, peace, development,” he says.

He says Mr. Stubb is more “open and modern,” while Mr. Haavisto is more “traditional and cautious.”

Polls open at 9 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET) and close at 8 p.m. (1 p.m. ET).

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About the Author: Hermínio Guimarães

"Introvertido premiado. Viciado em mídia social sutilmente charmoso. Praticante de zumbis. Aficionado por música irritantemente humilde."

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