The future president of Finland will be a former member of the government. According to the count of almost all the ballots in this election dominated by the theme of national security and tensions with Russia, the former conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto, given favorites , will contest the second round of the presidential election on February 11.

Mr. Stubb came first in the first round, Sunday January 28, with 27.2% of the vote, ahead of Mr. Haavisto (25.8%), a member of the Greens who was running as an independent. Once mentioned as a possible spoilsport of this election, the far-right candidate of the Finns Party, Jussi Halla-aho, comes clearly behind the leading duo with 19% of the votes.

Endowed with more limited powers than the prime minister, the head of state nevertheless directs foreign policy in close cooperation with the government and is the supreme commander of the armed forces.

“Whichever candidate I face in the second round, I know that we will have a constructive, civilized and quality debate on difficult foreign policy issues,” responded Alexander Stubb on the public channel Yle after this result. Mr. Haavisto estimated that “the differences will become clear as the campaign progresses.”

Very degraded relations with neighboring Russia

Remaining neutral during the Cold War, Finland became the 31st member of NATO last year, to the great dismay of Russia with whom it shares a 1,340 kilometer-long border. “Experience in foreign policy was probably what people were looking for when looking at the two candidates who will go to the next round,” analyzed, for Agence France-Presse, Hanna Ojanen, director of policy research at the University of Tampere. “They are two very experienced and realistic politicians who know what they are talking about,” she added.

Relations between Finland and Russia have deteriorated significantly since February 2022 and the Russian offensive in Ukraine. After its neighbor joined NATO in April 2023, Moscow promised “countermeasures.” Finland has notably faced an influx of migrants on its eastern border.

Helsinki accused Moscow of orchestrating a migration crisis on its doorstep and closed its border with Russia in November, a measure supported by all the candidates. “Russia, and in particular Vladimir Putin, uses human beings as a weapon,” Alexander Stubb said Thursday evening during the last televised debate. “In this case, we must put Finland’s security first,” he added. Helsinki had to “send a clear message that this cannot continue”, declared, for his part, Pekka Haavisto, during the same debate.

A member of the European Union and the Eurozone, Finland prioritized the development of economic relations with its big neighbor after the Cold War, in the hope that this would translate into democratic development. Outgoing President Sauli Niinistö, who is stepping down after reaching the limit of two six-year terms, had prided himself on having maintained close ties with Vladimir Putin, before becoming one of the Russian president’s most virulent opponents in Europe.

Personality difference

In this context, the presidential candidates all defended Finland’s independence and its new role as a NATO member, underlines Hanna Wass, vice dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Finland. Helsinki.

“The differences come down to nuance” in terms of foreign policy, agrees Tuomas Forsberg, professor of foreign policy at the University of Tampere. “It will be more about electing a personality, taking into account their credibility, reliability and perceived qualities as a foreign policy leader,” he added.

The conservative Alexander Stubb, 55, was notably the prime minister of Finland between 2014 and 2015 and then the country’s finance minister. Pekka Haavisto, 65, has held several ministerial posts since 1995 and lost in the last two presidential elections to the outgoing president. “They both have strong experience in domestic and foreign policy, which voters value,” Ms. Wass says.

Their vision of the function is similar but their personality differs, underlines Mr. Forsberg. “Alex [Stubb] is more a representative of the right and Haavisto of the left, although Haavisto tried to point out that there was nothing red about him, that he took a middle path as a Green,” according to him.