Finns headed to the polls on January 28 to elect a brand new president, an workplace whose significance has grown on elevated tensions with neighbouring Russia because the invasion of Ukraine.
While the President’s powers are restricted, the top of state – who additionally acts as supreme commander of Finland’s armed forces – helps direct international coverage in collaboration with the federal government, which means the altering geopolitical panorama in Europe would be the important concern for the winner.
Two high politicians lead the pack of 9 candidates: former conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, and ex-foreign minister Pekka Haavisto of the Green Party who’s working as an unbiased.
Just behind the frontrunners are far-right Finns Party candidate Jussi Halla-aho, who specialists consider might additionally make it to the second spherical.
The polls opened at 9:00 a.m. (0700 GMT), and can shut at 8:00 p.m.
Voter Hannu Kuusitie advised AFP the nation wants a president with “leadership” and “humanity”.
“Of course, he must also be tough when necessary,” he added.
Relations between Moscow and Helsinki deteriorated following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, prompting Finland to drop many years of army non-alignment and be a part of NATO in April 2023.
Russia, with which Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border, swiftly warned of “countermeasures”.
Independent and ally
By August 2023, Finland noticed an inflow of migrants getting into by way of its japanese border with out visas.
Helsinki claimed Moscow was pushing the migrants in a hybrid assault to destabilise it, and Finland closed the japanese border in November.
“We are in a situation now where Russia and especially Vladimir Putin is using humans as a weapon,” Mr. Stubb mentioned throughout a remaining televised debate.
“It’s a migrant issue, it’s a ruthless, cynical measure. And in that case we have to put Finland’s security first,” he added.
Main rival Haavisto confused that Finland needed to “send Russia a very clear message that this can’t go on”.
In the post-Cold War interval, Helsinki maintained good relations with Moscow.
Incumbent President Sauli Niinisto – who’s stepping down after serving two six-year phrases – as soon as prided himself on his shut ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier than changing into one in all his most trenchant critics.
Against this backdrop, all of the presidential candidates champion each Finland’s independence and its new function as a NATO member, mentioned Hanna Wass, vice dean on the Faculty of Social Science on the University of Helsinki.
“They all seem to have a strong idea emphasising self-sufficiency, in that in the future Finland should be in charge of its defence independently and also be an active contributor in building a shared European defence and Nordic cooperation,” Wass advised AFP.
With such related stances, the election will focus extra on the candidats’ personalities, in accordance with Tuomas Forsberg, professor of international coverage on the University of Tampere.
“This will be more about electing an individual, where you look at the person’s credibility and reliability and perceived qualities as a leader of foreign policy,” Mr. Forsberg mentioned.
A ballot printed by public broadcaster Yle gave Stubb a primary spherical lead with 27% of the vote, Haavisto in second on 23% and Halla-aho 18%.
Mr. Stubb was prime minister of Finland between 2014 and 2015, whereas Pekka Haavisto has held a number of ministerial posts.
“They both have broad experience in both domestic and foreign politics, which voters seem to value the most,” Mr. Wass mentioned.
While sharing related political opinions, Mr. Haavisto and Mr. Stubb characterize completely different backgrounds, Mr. Forsberg famous.
“Their background and values… are seen as quite different because Alex is more a representative of the right and Haavisto of the left, even if Haavisto has tried to underline that there is nothing red about him, that he has taken the middle road as a Green,” Mr. Forsberg mentioned.
In a second voting spherical between the 2 – which can be held on February 11 until a candidate receives greater than 50 % – the election debates could possibly be decisive, he added.