Staub narrowly wins first round of Finnish presidential election | Election news

Alexander Stubb, former prime minister, and Pekka Haavisto, former foreign minister, are scheduled to meet in the second round on February 11.

Alexander Stubb of Finland's centre-right National Coalition party has won the first round of the country's presidential election, and will go head-to-head with Pekka Haavisto of the liberal Greens in a run-off two weeks later.

After all the votes in Sunday's election were counted, Stubb received 27.2 percent, followed by Haavisto on 25.8 percent, and nationalist Jossi Hala-aho came in third place with 19 percent. The participation rate was 71.5 percent.

The top two will go into the final run-off on February 11.

Finland is electing a new president to lead the country in its new role within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after abandoning decades of non-alignment to join the Western defense alliance in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“You know, we've reached the final, but the competition is only starting now,” Staub, the former prime minister, told supporters.

His opponent in the second round is the former Foreign Minister HaavistoHe is a human rights defender and has also worked as a peace negotiator.

Haavisto would become Finland's first openly gay president if elected.

“Our mission now is to reach those whose candidate was not in the second round,” Haavisto said in a speech to his supporters.

Social Movement presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto attends his election reception in Helsinki, Finland [Lehtikuva/Antti Aimo-Koivisto via Reuters]

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The Finnish President's role entails taking the lead on foreign and security policy in close cooperation with the government, representing the country at NATO meetings, and serving as Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defense Forces.

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The three main candidates were all supporters of Ukraine and called for tough action against Russia.

“Foreign policy experience could be what people are looking for, given the two candidates who will go to the next round,” Hanna Ojanen, director of political research at the University of Tampere, told AFP news agency after the results became clear.

During their election campaigns, both Stubb and Haavisto oriented toward the political center, while Hala Aho maintained his right-wing conservative image.

For many Finns, nationalist Hala Aahu is a divisive figure who attracts loyal supporters and powerful opponents.

In Helsinki, 26-year-old Lena Buksha, one of the advanced voters, told Reuters news agency that it was especially important to vote in the elections because of the war in Ukraine and the difficult situation it created.

Buksa said Stubb, who is seen by Finns as a pro-European globalist, is the right person to head the country's foreign policy at this time.

“I voted for Alexander Stubb because I think he is very good at dealing with other countries and has a good relationship with people outside Finland,” said Buksa, who went out with her child to accompany a friend to vote on Sunday.

But Jiri Markkinen, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student, has a different view.

“I don't think so [Stubb] “He will be a very good president because he doesn't seem to want to represent the people, he wants to represent himself,” Markkinen told Reuters, adding that he had voted for Haavisto in advance.

He added: “He has foreign policy experience and is known for his generally intelligent behavior, unlike some other candidates.”

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Voter Hannu Cosetti told AFP that the country needs a president with “leadership” and “humanity.”

“Of course, he must also be strict when necessary,” he added.

Finland's entry into NATO last year sparked threats of “countermeasures” from Russia, with which Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) land border.

In December, Finland closed its border with Russia in response to increasing numbers of migrants trying to cross. Moscow denied Finnish accusations that it was sending migrants there.

The Finnish border serves as the EU's external border in the east and represents NATO's northeastern flank.

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The new Finnish president will replace current President Sauli Niinistö, 75 years old, who must step down after two six-year terms.

He earned the nickname “Putin's whisperer” during his tenure for his role in maintaining close ties with Russia, which has long been a key role for Finnish presidents.

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