Finland election: Finns vote to elect new president

HELSINKI (AP) — Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb won Sunday's election over Finland's former foreign minister, Bekka Haavisto, in a close race for the job of leading the NATO member's foreign and security policy and for the presidency. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

With all votes counted, Stubb, the center-right candidate of the National Alliance Party, had 51.6% of the vote, while Havisto, an independent candidate from the green left, had 48.4%.

Stubb, 55, who was prime minister in 2014-2015 and began his political career as a lawmaker in the European Parliament in 2004, will become Finland's 13th president since the Nordic country gained independence from the Russian Empire in 1917.

Havisto conceded defeat after Finnish public broadcaster YLE's forecast was published on Sunday night showing a win for Stubbs. He shook Stubb's hand and congratulated him at Helsinki City Hall, where candidates and media watched the results come in.

Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, A man casts his vote at a polling station during the presidential election in Espoo, Finland. (AP Photo/Sergey Kritz)

The months-long election campaign was dignified and non-confrontational, in line with consensus-driven Finnish politics, with no belt attacks from any of the candidates – Stubb noted in his speech to Haavisto.

“It was a fair, great race,” Stubb told Havisto after the result became clear. “I am honored to be able to contest these elections with you. Thanks for a good race. “

Stubb, 65, and Havisto were the main rivals in the election, where more than 4 million eligible voters chose a successor to the hugely popular President Sauli Niinisto, whose second six-year term ends in March. He is not eligible for re-election.

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In the Jan. 28 first round, none of the original nine candidates received more than half of the vote, necessitating Sunday's runoff. Stubb topped the list with 27.3%, followed by Havisto with 25.8%.

Several opinion polls indicated that Stubb, who also served as Finland's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Finance and European Affairs, was the favorite to win the presidency.

Early voter turnout was 70.7%, significantly lower than the 75% in the first round of voting.

Unlike most European countries, Finland's president has executive power to formulate foreign and security policy alongside the government, particularly in countries outside the EU such as the US, Russia and China.

During the election campaign, Stubb and Haavisto largely agreed on Finland's foreign policy and security priorities. These include maintaining a tough stance toward Moscow and Russia's current leadership, strengthening security ties with Washington, and the need to assist Ukraine both militarily and at the civilian level. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mi) border With Russia.

The head of state commands the military – especially important in the current security environment in Europe and Finland's changed geopolitical situation. Joined NATO in April 2023 After Russia's attack on Ukraine a year earlier.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was one of the first foreign dignitaries to send “sincere congratulations” to Stubb, a staunch supporter of Kiev.

“Ukraine and Finland, in solidarity with other partners, are strengthening the security of the whole of Europe and every nation on our continent,” Zelenskyy said in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter. I look forward to advancing our relations and our shared vision of a free, united and well-protected Europe.

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Finland's president is expected to stay out of the fray of day-to-day politics and largely stay out of domestic political strife.

Havisto was Finland's top diplomat in 2019-2023 and a key negotiator for NATO entry. A former conflict mediator with the United Nations and a passionate environmentalist, this is his third bid for the presidency.

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