Finland prepares for a new president in the NATO era, eyeing Russia

Finland heads to the polls on Sunday, electing a president who will navigate the country's new NATO membership, a significant shift from its long-standing non-alignment. This decision came in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, marking a new chapter in Finnish foreign policy.

Publication: 28.01.2024 - 10:45
Finland prepares for a new president in the NATO era, eyeing Russia
Abone Ol google-news

The country's move to join NATO last year, spurred by security concerns, was met with threats of retaliation from Russia. In a decisive response to an influx of migrants at its border, Finland, in December, shut down passenger traffic along its entire border with Russia, countering Moscow's denial of Finnish accusations of orchestrating the migrant surge.

In this pivotal election, all nine candidates vow to maintain a firm stance against Russia. The president's role is crucial, directing foreign and security policy in collaboration with the government, representing Finland at NATO meetings, and serving as the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces.

Alexander Stubb of the center-right National Coalition has taken the lead in polls, with 22-27% support, narrowly outpacing Pekka Haavisto of the liberal Green Party, who has 20-23% backing. Jussi Halla-aho of the nationalist Finns Party is also a strong contender, with 15-18% support.

Other prominent candidates include Bank of Finland Governor Olli Rehn and Social Democrat EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, representing a diverse political landscape.

A runoff will follow if no candidate secures over 50% of votes in the first round. Early results are expected shortly after the polls close at 1800 GMT, with a clearer picture of potential second-round contenders emerging by 2030 GMT, unless the vote is too close to call.

The elected president will succeed 75-year-old Sauli Niinisto, who steps down after two six-year terms. Niinisto, nicknamed "the Putin Whisperer," was known for maintaining Finland's traditionally close ties with Russia, a key aspect of the role for Finnish presidents.