In a historic victory, former conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb secured the Finnish presidential elections on Sunday with 51.6% of the votes, defeating his rival Pekka Haavisto. The elections were notably influenced by rising tensions with Russia following Finland’s NATO membership.
Stubb, 55, expressed his astonishment at the fairness and honesty of the elections, given the current geopolitical climate. After going to greet his opponent, Haavisto, at his election party, Stubb addressed his supporters, emphasizing the remarkable nature of conducting such democratic elections in the prevailing security policy context.
The final results showed Stubb with 51.6% of the votes against Haavisto’s 48.4%. Approximately 70.7% of the nearly 4.3 million eligible voters participated in the runoff.
The role of the Finnish head of state, with fewer powers than the prime minister, includes a six-year term and leadership in foreign policy, working closely with the government. The president also serves as the supreme commander of the armed forces. The new president will assume office on March 1.
The significance of the president’s role has grown since the conflict in Ukraine and Finland’s NATO accession, which prompted the country to pledge “countermeasures.” Stubb, who returned to Finnish politics after retiring from public affairs, became Foreign Minister at the age of 40 and served as prime minister from 2014 to 2015.
Against the backdrop of the war in Europe and Gaza, Stubb stressed the importance of maintaining a calm demeanor and working towards peace at home and abroad. Finland, sharing a 1,340-km border with Russia, had maintained neutrality during the Cold War and advocated for dialogue between Western countries and Russia.
However, in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Finland, previously non-aligned militarily for three decades, ended its military non-alignment. In August, Finland accused Moscow of orchestrating a migration crisis on its borders and decided to close its border with Russia in November, a move supported by both presidential candidates.
The international political situation poses challenges for Finland, and voters expressed the need for a president capable of working across political parties and negotiating effectively. Stubb, a proponent of NATO membership, advocates for increased sanctions against Russia.
“The strong support for Ukraine will undoubtedly continue. And Russia will appear on the agenda in one way or another, in addition to the war,” said Hanna Ojanen, director of political research at the University of Tampere.
The main difference between the two candidates centered on the issue of storing and transporting nuclear weapons in Finland. Stubb believes that the country should not exclude any part of NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy.
Stubb’s international experience, including serving as a Member of the European Parliament, is considered an advantage. Analysts suggest that his extroverted personality and broad network could usher in a “slightly new class” of presidency.
As the successor to the outgoing President Sauli Niinistö, who communicated Finland’s NATO decision directly to Vladimir Putin in 2022, Stubb is expected to navigate multilateral cooperation, bilateral relations, and the broader foreign and security policy landscape.