Voters in Finland will choose a president who will shape a new era for NATO
Finns will elect a new president on Sunday in the first national elections since the country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), choosing a leader who will be crucial in shaping the country’s role in the alliance at a time when relations with Russia are increasingly strained.
The election may not normally receive much attention outside the borders of the sparsely populated northern European country of 5.6 million people. But Finland, NATO’s newest member, shares its longest border with Russia — about 830 miles — and its policies have gained particular attention from its European and American allies as the geopolitical order shifts.
US power is being challenged by Moscow and Beijing, and Europe is grappling with the largest land war since World War II. On the other hand, the US commitment to helping Ukraine appears increasingly questionable, and an unpredictable US presidential election looms on the horizon.
The President of Finland is responsible for foreign policy, and whoever wins will bear the primary responsibility for guiding the country through a changing world.
“The future president will have an influence on what type of NATO member Finland will be in the future,” said Jenny Karimaki, a political analyst at the University of Helsinki. “NATO membership is one of the things that is of interest in this election – and of course the general global political situation.”
Finland’s decision to join NATO marked a sharp break with decades of rejection The policy of non-alignment, and the risks and responsibilities associated with the country’s new position in the world, have dominated the election campaign over who will succeed the popular Sauli Niinistö, whose second six-year term ends in March.
The two candidates who reached Sunday’s runoff – Alexander Stubb, of the centre-right National Coalition party, and Pekka Haavisto, of the centre-left Green League party – strongly supported the decision to join NATO and take a hard line. Show line to Russia. The differences between them were mostly stylistic.
Mr Stubb, the former prime minister who received the most votes in the first round, touted his security credentials.
“I’m as tough as the best of them, there’s no doubt about that,” he told the New York Times.
He said that confronting Russia has become more difficult in the era of hybrid warfare. There has been an increase in cyber attacks, some of which Russian hackers have claimed responsibility.
Among the issues most troubling to voters was the sudden rise In asylum seekers Crossing into Finland via the Russian border, which many in Finland see as a signal from Russia in response to its NATO membership. Moscow warned that there would be “countermeasures” to Finland joining NATO.
“The line between war and peace has become blurred,” Mr. Stapp said. “The Russians are very good at hybrid warfare.” He added: “They will do everything in their power to intimidate or destabilize Finland, especially public opinion. But they have failed miserably so far.”
Mr Haavisto, who was Foreign Minister from 2019 to 2023, has used his credentials as one of the main negotiators for Finland’s entry into NATO to show that his stance towards Russia is no less tough. But he has also shown caution toward more hard-line positions. His identity has been shaped over the years As a peace negotiator for the United Nations, Finland and the European Union.
The difference in approach taken by the two candidates became memorably clear during one debate. Asked whether they would respond to a congratulatory call from Russian President Vladimir Putin if they won the election, the two split: Mr. Staub said he would not. But Mr. Haavisto said he would.
There are only a few other positions that truly set the candidates apart, such as their stance on nuclear weapons. Mr. Stubb said he would be willing to allow NATO to transfer its nuclear weapons to Finnish territory, while Mr. Haavisto said he would not do so.
However, the question remains hypothetical, as current Finnish law prohibits nuclear weapons on Finnish territory, and the president cannot pass legislation.
Mr. Haavisto has traveled the country holding hearings at gas station centers, a common hangout in small towns throughout rural Finland.
He has also held several campaign events as a DJ himself using his moniker DJ Pexi, playing everything from The Beatles to Belgian punk. One of his final campaign events was a concert in which several famous Finnish musicians played.
“Voting for Pekka Haavisto is important to me, because I want to hold on to the last bit of peace in an increasingly aggressive world,” said Eno Normisto, a social media influencer who attended the ceremony.
Mr. Staub, an avid sportsman, began the second round of his campaign with a tour of central Helsinki and also organized cross-country skiing campaign events. He also opened a chain of cafés across the country, where voters could stop in and escape the frigid temperatures with coffee, sweets and campaign paraphernalia.
“We are living in a time that will be very important for the future of Finland,” said Claes-Henrik Tuscher, as he prepared to drink coffee in a café in Helsinki.
Beyond Russia, there is another concern, across the Atlantic: What will be in store for Finland with NATO membership if Donald J. Trump, an outspoken critic of the alliance who has even suggested the United States should withdraw from it, wins the presidential election in November?
“The decision to join NATO is entirely based on the idea that the United States, the Americans, are here to stay and that the United States’ commitment is long-term,” said Matti Piso of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “If the United States decided to weaken its commitment, it would be a great irony, and it would weaken the deterrence value of Finland’s NATO membership.”