HELSINKI, Feb 12 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Finland’s former prime minister, Alexander Stubb, completed a surprise political comeback on Sunday by winning a closely fought runoff to become the Nordic state’s president after seven years in the political wilderness.
The result will have been closely watched in European capitals and beyond given Finland’s strategically important location along the EU and NATO’s eastern border with an increasingly aggressive Russia. The country’s president leads its foreign policy alongside the government, and serves as Finland’s commander-in-chief.
Stubb, a member of the mainstream center-right National Coalition Party (NCP), beat former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto of the center-left Green Party in the runoff, 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent.
Stubb said before the election that Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine had convinced him to return to Finnish politics and to contribute to Europe’s efforts to face down the Kremlin.
But speaking to reporters after the vote he adopted a gentler tone, noting that while much had been said during the campaign about “war, defense and NATO,” his message was “one of peace.”
“We must remember that one of the president’s main tasks is to ensure Finland promotes peace, and I will do that as president,” Stubb said.
The new president succeeds popular outgoing incumbent Sauli Niinistö, also of the NCP, who has reached Finland’s limit of two six-year terms.
Niinistö was the face of Finland’s dramatic decision to join NATO last April in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. He was seen internationally as a quietly competent operator who steered his country through tricky accession negotiations with Turkey and Hungary in particular.
During the five-month presidential election campaign, observers say, Stubb earned the support of voters by demonstrating a calmer and more thoughtful demeanor during debates than had been his custom, and for being at pains to show respect for his rivals.
Stubb has said he intends to be a unifying force in Finnish society, something the country appears to need after a series of racism scandals involving government ministers and, more recently, strikes over work conditions and wages that paralyzed public services.
Stubb and Haavisto largely agreed on how to approach the key foreign policy challenges facing Finland, including the need to take a hard line against Russia, but observers judged Stubb to be slightly the more hawkish of the two toward the Kremlin.
Moscow has been accused of orchestrating the arrival of waves of immigrants from the Middle East at Russia’s border with Finland over the winter; such tactics might also now resume.
Stubb assumes the presidency March 1. — NNN-AGENCIES