Finland opted for the conservative Alexander Stubb to succeed his co-religionist as president of the country Sauli Niinistö. The second electoral round in the Nordic country gave victory by a minimal margin to this experienced politician, former prime minister and also former foreign minister, a deep “Atlanticist”, who obtained 51.7% of the votes, according to the results released by the Yle public television with 90% counted.
The desire for security from the neighboring country weighed on the minds of the Finns. Russiain the midst of the persistent tension that the country has been experiencing since it became a member of the NATO, less than a year ago. Stubb thereby defeated green Pekka Haavisto, who aspired to be elected for the third time and came in at 48.3%. His result is a milestone for the Greens, a party that never won the presidency, but this time came close to doing so. Haavisto had earned the trust of a broader electoral spectrum than his party thanks to his time as Foreign Minister during the process of joining NATO.
But the country finally decided to accelerate anchoring in NATO under the figure of Stubb. In addition to succeeding his co-religionist Niinistö, he will share power with the prime minister Petteri Orpo, also conservative. Tensions with Moscow and threats from the Kremlin marked these presidential campaigns. They are, in fact, the daily reality that Finns have faced since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine. The country has faced it with more serenity than acrimony and with a cohesive political spectrum, without fissures, in the consideration that Moscow stopped being a beneficial neighbor, commercially, to be a risk factor.
Finlandwhich already had a modern and well-prepared army with 25,000 troops and 900,000 reservists, began in 2022 to reinforce its defense and its 1,340 kilometers of border, which will remain closed from November until at least mid-April. Spend more than 2% of its GDP to Defenseso it meets NATO objectives.
The fight between both candidates in the tiebreaker round was an example of exquisiteness. Especially in the televised debates, they seemed more dedicated to the task of exhibiting cohesion than showing their differences. At the end of the day, the president’s job is to be the president of all 5.5 million Finns, regardless of the party he is from – something evident in Haavisto, who ran as an independent despite being a founding member of the Finnish Greens.
Presidential powers concern mainly the foreign and defense policy, since he is also the commander in chief of the armed forces. However, his decisions are made in consensus with the national government. This was the line of the outgoing Niinistö during the NATO integration process, which he shared with Haavisto as Foreign Minister in the previous government of the social democrat Sanna Marin.
Finnish entry into the Atlantic Alliance, in April 2023, was followed by the change in power in favor of the conservative Orpo and with the extreme right as an ally of the government. But this change has not modified the line of foreign policy either. Stubb showed himself in the campaign ready to deploy nuclear weapons on its territory -current Finnish laws do not allow it- and also to host allied bases permanently. That was the substantial difference with respect to his environmentalist rival.
A return after seven years in the rearguard
Stubb, 55, will be the youngest president that Finland had at the time of taking office. His victory marks his return to his country’s politics after seven somewhat stormy years, precipitated by his internal disputes with the now Prime Minister Orpo. Both fought for the leadership of their party, Kokoomus, but Stubb lost the battle in 2016. That made him leave Finland to become vice president of the European Investment Bank, first, and then take refuge in the university environment, in Florence.
He is a very well-rounded politician, it was already prime minister between 2014 and 2015, and headed three ministerial portfolios, among them that of Foreign Affairs. This last aspect has been the lever for his candidacy, which he assumed at the “invitation” of Orpo and with the shared purpose of rounding out the conservative dominance at the head of power in Finland. He is a convinced Atlanticist even before Finland abandoned military neutrality to embrace the Atlantic Alliance.
He usually intersperses phrases in his statements in Swedish, the co-official language in Finland, which he dominates and which only a minority of 5% of its population speaks. He is married to a British lawyer and is the father of two children.
This private element is the most substantial difference with Haavisto, who openly lives his homosexuality and is married to an Ecuadorian hairdresser. It is difficult to gauge whether the fact of being gay harmed him among a sector of the electorate.