Finland elects president amid tensions with Russia

Published January 29, 2024
The three candidates with most preliminary votes, candidate of the Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho Halla-aho (L), Finnish former foreign minister and candidate of the Green League (VIHR) Pekka Haavisto (C) and Finnish former prime minister and candidate of the National Coalition Party NCP Alexander Stubb (R) take part in an the Presidential election night debate at the City Hall in Helsinki, Finland, during the first round of the presidential election, on January 28, 2024.—AFP
The three candidates with most preliminary votes, candidate of the Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho Halla-aho (L), Finnish former foreign minister and candidate of the Green League (VIHR) Pekka Haavisto (C) and Finnish former prime minister and candidate of the National Coalition Party NCP Alexander Stubb (R) take part in an the Presidential election night debate at the City Hall in Helsinki, Finland, during the first round of the presidential election, on January 28, 2024.—AFP

HELSINKI: Finns headed to the polls to pick a new president on Sunday to lead the country in its new role within Nato after it broke with decades of non-alignment to join the Western defence alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Nordic country’s admission to Nato last year drew threats of “counter measures” from its much larger neighbour. In December, Finland closed its entire border with Russia to passenger traffic in response to a surge in migrants trying to cross. Moscow denied Finnish charges it was sending the migrants there.

All nine candidates are promising a tough stance towards Russia if elected president, a role that leads on foreign and security policy in close cooperation with the government and represents the country at Nato meetings, while also acting as a Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces.

The centre-right National Coalition’s Alexander Stubb has emerged as the frontrunner, with recent polls giving him 22-27pc support in a first round, just ahead of liberal Green Party member Pekka Haavisto, who polled at 20-23pc.

The nationalist Finns Party’s Jussi Halla-aho is not far behind Haavisto, at 15-18pc.

Nearly 45pc of eligible voters, or 1.9 million Finns, had voted in advance ahead of Sunday, the justice ministry’s data showed, and partial results consisting of advance votes are expected as soon as polls close after 1800 GMT.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2024

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