The Nordic country’s new president will lead Finland as a NATO member amid tensions with Russia.
Finns go to the polls to elect a new president leading the country in its new role within NATO after breaking from decades of non-alignment to join the Western defense alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
All nine candidates promise to take a tough stance on Russia if elected president, a role that involves leading foreign and security policy in close cooperation with the government, representing the country at meetings of NATO and also act as NATO Commander-in-Chief. the Finnish Defense Forces.
Alexander Stubb, of the center-right National Coalition, emerged as the favorite, with recent polls giving him 22 to 27 percent support in the first round, just ahead of liberal Green Party member Pekka Haavisto, who received 20 to 23 percent.
Jussi Halla-aho of the Finnish Nationalist Party is not far behind Haavisto, with 15 to 18 percent.
Bank of Finland Governor Olli Rehn and Social Democratic European Union Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen are also among six other candidates from across the political spectrum.
Nearly 45 percent of eligible voters, or 1.9 million Finns, cast their ballots before Sunday, according to Justice Ministry data. Partial results consisting of advance votes are expected shortly after voting closes at 8:00 p.m. (18:00 GMT).
If no candidate obtains more than 50% of the votes cast after the first round, a second round will take place between the first and second candidates on February 11.
War in Ukraine
In Helsinki, Leena Boksha, 26, an early voter, told the Reuters news agency that it was especially important to vote in the elections because of the war in Ukraine and the difficult situation it creates.
Boksha said Stubb, seen by Finns as a cosmopolitan pro-European, was the ideal person to lead the country’s foreign policy at present.
“I voted for Alexander Stubb because I think he is very good at dealing with other countries and has good relations with people outside Finland,” said Boksha, who was out with her baby to accompany a friend to vote on Sunday.
Jere Markkinen, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student, has a different opinion.
“I don’t think he (Stubb) would be a very good president because he doesn’t seem to want to represent the people, he wants to represent himself,” Markkinen told Reuters, adding that he voted for Haavisto in advance.
“He has experience in foreign policy and is known for generally acting intelligently, unlike some other candidates.”
Finland’s admission to NATO last year also sparked threats of “countermeasures” from its much larger neighbor Russia. In December, Finland closed its entire border with Russia to passenger traffic in response to a surge in migrants attempting to cross. Moscow has denied Finnish accusations that it was sending migrants there.
In a televised news conference on Thursday, Stubb said Finland now finds itself in a situation where “Russia and in particular (Russian President) Vladimir Putin are using humans as a weapon.”
“It’s a question of migrants, it’s a callous and cynical measure. And in this case, we must prioritize the security of Finland,” he added.
Haavisto, his main rival, stressed that Finland must “send a very clear message to Russia that this cannot continue.”
Finland’s new president will replace Sauli Niinisto, 75, who is due to step down after two six-year terms.
He earned the nickname “the Putin whisperer” during his term due to his role in maintaining close ties with Russia, which have long been a key role for Finnish presidents.