Finland to pick new president in second-round vote

Finland to pick new president in second-round vote

Polls opened in Finland on Sunday morning for the final round of the country's presidential vote, which pits former prime minister Alexander Stubb, a conservative, against Green party lawmaker Pekka Haavisto, who had decided to run as an independent candidate. Both Stubb and Haavisto had at different points served as Finland's foreign minister.

Some 4.3 million people are eligible to vote in Finland. However, almost 46% of all voters cast their ballots early, before polling stations opened from 9 a.m.local time (0700 GMT). The voting is expected to end at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT). 

The foreign policy experience is key for both candidates, as Helsinki seeks to reorient its security policy after decades of non-alignment.  Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Finland applied for NATO membership and became a full-fledged member of the alliance in April last year.

Finland's push towards NATO has prompted pledges of "countermeasures" from Russia, with which it shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border.

Where do Stubb and Haavisto stand on NATO and Russia?

Both Stubb and Haavisto have voiced strong support for Ukraine and urged more sanctions against Moscow.

"The European Union can do much more to help Ukraine," Haavisto said in a televised debate on Thursday.

Stubb echoed the sentiment, saying that Kyiv deserves "all the support that we can give to them."

"Ukraine's road is our road, and at the moment they are fighting for the freedom of Europeans," the former prime minister said.

But the two men differ on the specifics of NATO's defense strategy.

Haavisto believes there is no need for NATO troops to be permanently based in Finland and wants to maintain the country's strict ban on nuclear weapons.

However, Stubb has called for permanent deployment of troops and allowing nuclear weapons to be transported through Finland but also noted they should not be permanently stored in the Scandinavian country.

"At times, a nuclear weapon is a guarantee of peace," Stubb said at a debate on Tuesday.

What's next for Helsinki and Moscow?

Stubb, who has enjoyed a moderate lead over Haavisto in the polls and who won the first-round vote, also told the Reuters news agency there would be "no relations with the president of Russia or with the Russian political leadership until they stop the war in Ukraine."

While Russia's official reaction to Finland's NATO entry has been muted, Finland registered a large number of migrants crossing the border from Russia last summer.

Helsinki claims the migrants were sent by the Kremlin in a bit to destabilize the new NATO member, with Finnish officials deciding to temporarily close the border in November.

dj/ab (AFP, Reuters)