Finland elects new president

| | HELSINKI
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Finland elects new president

Tuesday, 13 February 2024 | AP | HELSINKI

Finland has a new president after former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb narrowly won a runoff vote Sunday for the key post in this Nordic country. Stubb, who takes over in March, will steer Finland’s foreign and security policy, including integrating the NATO newcomer into the alliance’s core structures. 
The final tally shows Stubb, of the centre-right National Coalition Party, had 51.6 per cent of the votes, while independent candidate and former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto from the green left got 48.4 per cent of the votes. The two were the contenders in the second round of the election. Haavisto had served as Finland’s top diplomat from 2019-2023.
Stubb is taking over from the hugely popular President Sauli Niinistö, whose second six-year term expires next month and who wasn’t eligible for reelection. A runoff was required after none of the original nine candidates got a majority of the votes in the first round on January 28. In tradition with consensus-driven Finnish politics and no below-the-belt attacks during the campaign, Stubb visited Haavisto’s election party event late Sunday after the result was clear. 
“You’re one of the nicest people I have ever met,” Stubb told his opponent at the party event, according to Finnish broadcaster YLE.  The presidency is a key political post in this northern European country of 5.6 million people. Unlike in most European countries, the president of Finland holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy together with the government. But he is also expected to remain above the fray of day-to-day politics and stay out of domestic political disputes while acting as a moral leader of the nation. 
 The head of state also commands the military — a key role after Finland joined NATO in April 2023 in the aftermath of Russia’s attack on Ukraine a year earlier. Finnish media outlets on Monday pointed out how Europe’s security is at stake as never before since World War II, due to Russia’s invasion.
Doubts also linger in Finland as elsewhere in Europe over the United States’ future commitment to NATO — doubts that former President Donald Trump appeared to rekindle over the weekend as the front-runner for the Republican nomination ramped up his attacks on foreign aid and long-standing international alliances.
“Stubb will become a president of difficult times, possibly even a wartime president,” newspaper Ilta-Sanomat said in an editorial. 
The 55-year-old Stubb, who was prime minister in 2014-2015 and started his political career as a lawmaker at the European Parliament in 2004, will become the 13th president of Finland since its independence from the Russian empire in 1917.
Stubb later served briefly as finance minister before exiting Finnish politics altogether in 2017. He had also earlier served as foreign minister and minister for European affairs and foreign trade. He holds a doctorate in international politics at the London School of Economics and has worked as a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, since 2020.
During his campaign, Stubb said Finland’s priorities include maintaining a hard line toward Moscow and Russia’s current leadership, strengthening security ties with Washington, and the need to help Ukraine both militarily and at a civilian level. 
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was among the first foreign dignitaries to send “sincere congratulations” to Stubb. Only some 1,000 kilometres away from Finland’s borders, the war in Ukraine has deeply affected the Nordic country’s citizens. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (832-mile) border with Russia. 
Zelenskyy said in message on X, formerly Twitter, that “Ukraine and Finland, in solidarity with other partners, are strengthening the security of the entire Europe and each nation on our continent. I look forward to advancing our relations and our shared vision of a free, united, and well-defended Europe.”
Voter turnout in the runoff was reported at 70.7 per cent, compared to the first round when it was 75 per cent. 

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