Finland has a new president: Alexander Stubb, the candidate of the ruling coalition party (Kokoomus), narrowly defeated Pekka Haavisto from the Greens in the runoff election on Sunday. After all 4.5 million votes were counted, Stubb got 51.6 percent and Haavisto 48.4 percent.
Stubb and Haavisto received the most votes among the nine candidates in the first round of voting at the end of January. Although it was quite close between the two (Stubb: 27.2 percent, Haavisto: 25.8), many people believed they already knew that Stubb would win the race: Third place went to Jussi Halla-aho with 19 percent former chairwoman of the right-wing populist True Finns and current parliamentary speaker, closely followed by the center candidate Olli Rehn. Many Rehn and Halla-aho supporters said they would vote for Stubb in the second round. In this respect, the surprisingly close outcome is now a respectable success for Pekka Haavisto – who, of course, had to admit defeat in a race for the presidency for the third time after 2012 and 2018.
There was only one topic in the election campaign: Russia
The Finnish president is primarily responsible for representing the country externally and is commander in chief of the armed forces. Pekka Haavisto was Foreign Minister in Sanna Marin's government; the 55-year-old liberal-conservative Alexander Stubb held this post from 2008 to 2011. Stubb was also finance minister and prime minister from June 2014 to May 2015. He then worked as Vice President of the European Investment Bank and has headed the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Florence since 2018.
The election campaign basically only had one topic: tensions with and fear of its eastern neighbor Russia. Since Finland became a NATO member last spring, Russian hacker groups have attacked Finnish authorities and corporate networks. In June, Finland expelled nine diplomats for espionage. In the fall, so many migrants showed up at the Finnish border crossings from the Russian side that the entire 1,344 kilometer long border is now closed.
Stubb's predecessor Sauli Niinistö, who has been president since 2012, has repeatedly positioned himself as an important mediator between Russia and the West and has long maintained an almost friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin. At the same time, however, he always supported Finnish NATO membership and played a decisive role in driving forward the accession talks since Russia's attack on Ukraine.
Stubb and Haavisto agreed during the election campaign that they would continue to take a hard line against Russia and continue their support for Ukraine. Since the two competitors were almost unanimous in their political statements, the reporting also focused on their private lives. Haavisto is married to an Ecuadorian. Cai-Göran Alexander Stubb has a very confident, sometimes expansive demeanor. He comes from a Swedish-Finnish family, is married to a British woman and took part in the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii in 2016.