HELSINKI — Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb won Finland's presidential runoff on Sunday against former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto in a close race between two experienced politicians for the post of head of state, whose main task will be to manage the Nordic country's foreign affairs and security. politics now that it is a member of NATO, after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
With over 99% of the votes counted, centre-right candidate Stubb of the Conservative National Coalition Party had received 51.6% of the vote, while independent candidate Haavisto from the green left received 48.4% of the vote.
Stubb, 55, who was prime minister in 2014-2015 and began his political career as a lawmaker in the European Parliament, will become Finland's 13th president since the Nordic country's independence from the Russian Empire in 1917.
Polling stations across the country closed at 20:00 (18:00 GMT).
Haavisto conceded defeat after a projection by Finnish public broadcaster YLE showing a win for Stubb was released after 9pm. He shook Stubb's hand and congratulated him at Helsinki City Hall, where candidates and media were watching the entry results.
Stubb and Haavisto, 65, were the leading contenders in the election where more than 4 million eligible voters chose a successor to hugely popular President Sauli Niinist, whose second six-year term expires in March. He was not eligible for re-election.
Sunday's runoff was forced because none of the nine initial candidates received more than half of the votes in the Jan. 28 first round. Stubb came out on top with 27.3%, with Haavisto runner-up with 25.8%.
Some polls showed Stubb, who has also served as Finland's minister of foreign affairs, finance and European affairs, as the favorite to win the presidency.
Initial voter turnout was 70.7%, significantly lower than in the first round of voting when it was 75%.
During the election campaign, Stubb and Haavisto largely agreed on Finland's foreign policy and security priorities. These include keeping a tough line on Moscow and Russia's current leadership, strengthening security ties with Washington, and the need to help Ukraine both militarily and civilian. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia.
Unlike most European countries, Finland's president has executive power in formulating foreign and security policy together with the government, especially in relation to countries outside the European Union such as the United States, Russia and China.
The head of state also commands the military – particularly important in the current security environment in Europe and the changed geopolitical situation of Finland, which joined NATO in April 2023 in the wake of Russia's attack on Ukraine a year earlier.
The Finnish president is expected to stay above the fray of day-to-day politics and largely stay out of domestic political disputes.
Haavisto was Finland's chief diplomat in 2019-2023 and the main negotiator of its entry into NATO. A former conflict mediator with the United Nations and a passionate environmentalist, this was his third bid for the presidency, running as an independent candidate.
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