Conservative ex-PM Alexander Stubb wins Finnish presidential run-off

National Coalition Party (NCP) presidential candidate Alexander Stubb attends an election night event at the Helsinki City Hall. Former conservative prime minister Alexander Stubb won Finland's run-off presidential election on Sunday, narrowly beating ex-foreign minister and Green politician Pekka Haavisto for the post that wields significant power in foreign policy. Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/dpa
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Former conservative prime minister Alexander Stubb won Finland's run-off presidential election on Sunday, narrowly beating ex-foreign minister and Green politician Pekka Haavisto for the post that wields significant power in foreign policy.

Stubb garnered 51.7% of the vote to Haavisto's 48.3%, public broadcaster Yle projected after 98% of the ballots were counted.

The result was closer than expected, with pre-election opinion polls having put Stubb in a more commanding lead.

Yle said Haavisto did well in cities and university towns while Stubb did better in the suburbs and rural areas.

Haavisto congratulated Stubb on his victory as soon as the broadcaster made its call.

In his first remarks as the incoming president, Stubb called the win the greatest honour of his life.

He will take office at the beginning of March, succeeding popular President Sauli Niinistö, who has completed two six-year terms and is not permitted to stand again.

The Finnish president is elected directly and holds significant powers in foreign and security policy, apart from their ceremonial role.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia. Under Niinistö and in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Nordic country decided to apply for NATO membership in 2022. After decades of military non-alignment, it became the 31st member of the defence alliance in April 2023.

Haavisto actually signed the country's NATO accession document in April 2023 as the then-foreign minister under prime minister Sanna Marin. Finnish conservative leader Petteri Orpo became prime minister two months later.

Finland's relationship with Russia has drastically deteriorated since joining NATO.

The crossings along the Russian-Finnish border have been closed for several months, and just days ago the Finnish government extended this measure until mid-April.

The Finnish government accuses the Russian authorities of deliberately bringing asylum seekers to the border without the necessary documents in order to sow discord in Finland.

Both Stubb and Haavisto are considered to be pro-European and staunch supporters of Ukraine. The election was therefore not expected to have a major impact on Finland's Russia policy.

Stubb and Haavisto received the most votes of the nine candidates in the first round, held on January 28. In that contest, Stubb got 27.2% of the vote, Haavisto 25.8%.

They beat out other heavyweights in Finnish politics, such as the right-wing populist parliamentary speaker Jussi Halla-aho and the former EU commissioner Olli Rehn.

Stubb served as prime minister from 2014 to 2015.

National Coalition Party (NCP) presidential candidate Alexander Stubb (L) and Green Party backed candidate for a nonpartisan constituency association Pekka Haavisto attend an election night event at the Helsinki City Hall. Former conservative prime minister Alexander Stubb won Finland's run-off presidential election on Sunday, narrowly beating ex-foreign minister and Green politician Pekka Haavisto for the post that wields significant power in foreign policy. Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva/dpa
National Coalition Party (NCP) presidential candidate Alexander Stubb (2nd R) celebrates with his wife Suzanne Innes-Stubb at his election reception in Helsinki. Former conservative prime minister Alexander Stubb won Finland's run-off presidential election on Sunday, narrowly beating ex-foreign minister and Green politician Pekka Haavisto for the post that wields significant power in foreign policy. Emmi Korhonen/Lehtikuva/dpa