Finland chooses president in a pivotal runoff

Finland’s presidential election reached a decisive second round on Sunday, with a former prime minister and a Green party candidate vying for the top office.

Electoral envelope entering the ballot box
Photo courtesy: Santeri Viinamäki

Finland votes a second-round vote in its most crucial presidential election in decades.

The front-runner was Alexander Stubb, the former prime minister from the centre-right National Coalition party, but he faced a strong challenge from Pekka Haavisto, an independent candidate who was a former foreign minister and a Green party member.

The next president will replace Sauli Niinistö, who served two terms and led Finland to join Nato. In the first round of voting two weeks ago, Stubb and Haavisto got 27.2% and 25.8% of the votes respectively, ahead of nine other candidates including Jussi Halla-aho, from the far-right Finns party, who came in third.

The final days of the campaign were dominated by the candidates’ personal issues and views on nuclear weapons. Haavisto, who could become Finland’s first Green and first gay president, wondered why his sexuality had attracted so much attention lately.

He said he was surprised by how his sexuality had become a public matter in the second and last round and blamed journalists, especially those from the state broadcaster Yle, for “sparking” debate about it.

Stubb, 55, said he was “feeling good” as he voted in Espoo on Sunday morning. He said: “I’m sure I’ll get a few butterflies coming in about I’d say 7.55 in the evening tonight before we get the pre-vote at 8 o’clock, but feeling good.”

About 46% of eligible voters cast their ballots in advance, according to official data. The first results from early voting are expected to be released shortly after polls close at 8pm local time (6pm GMT). A final result is expected around 11pm local time.

The Finnish president is the head of state and commander-in-chief of the army and shares foreign policy duties with the government.

International security and defence have been a top concern for Finnish voters amid claims of Moscow launching a “hybrid operation” on the border between Russia and Finland, which led Finland to temporarily shut down the entire border. Stubb called foreign policy and security “vital” issues for Finland.

Besides the public discussion of Haavisto’s sexuality, nuclear weapons were also a key topic. While Stubb supports allowing nuclear weapons to pass through the country, Haavisto, who has a background as a UN peace mediator, wants to keep Finland’s nuclear weapons ban.

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