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Finland, looking for a president for turbulent times

Finland, looking for a president for turbulent times

Finnish voters will have to elect their next head of state in Sunday’s elections, aware that the president will have to face turbulent times due to growing tensions with the neighbor Russia After Finland’s entry into the NATO.

The conservative candidate, Alexander Stubb, maintains a slight advantage with just a few days left for the second and final round – whose early voting ends this Tuesday -, although his rival, the environmentalist Pekka Haavisto, has been recovering ground and threatens to surpass him in the final stretch of the campaign.

Stubb, who has been an MEP, prime minister and holder of three ministerial portfolios, brings together a large part of the center-right and far-right votes, while Haavisto, former Foreign Minister, is supported by the green and center-left electorate.

Consensus on foreign and security policy

Both candidates have quite similar positions regarding foreign, defense and security policies, the president’s main competence, so voters will have to use their political inclination and their personal sympathies towards the candidates to decide.

Charly Salonius-Pastenak, researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), explained to EFE that the broad consensus between the two rivals on these issues is due to the fact that the biggest changes in Finland’s defense and security policy have already occurred. .

“There are rhetorical differences, but in reality there are no big differences in terms of NATO membership or Finland’s contribution to the various allied operations. So it’s really more a matter of details than the big picture.”, assured this expert.

Historically Stubb has always been more in favor of joining NATO, but on the other hand Haavisto is the foreign minister who appeared on television and said that Finland needed to join NATO, partly to be under the nuclear umbrella, he added.

In his opinion, the changes that have occurred in the international context in recent years have led both candidates to modify their positions, especially Haavisto, who, when he founded the Greens party several decades ago, “He never imagined that he would be the minister who brought Finland into NATO.”

Change of strategy after the invasion of Ukraine

Finland, as a non-aligned country, focused its defense strategy for decades on its own military capabilities, based on mandatory military service for men – women can do so voluntarily – and a 900,000-strong reservist corps.

This approach changed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led the Nordic country to seek greater security guarantees through its urgent entry into NATO and the signing of a bilateral military cooperation agreement with USAwhich aroused the wrath of Moscow.

Nor did it help to ease tensions that, after the Russian offensive, Finland decided to grant military aid to a nation at war, Ukraine, for the first time in eight decades.

After this radical change of course, Finland began to suffer mysterious breakdowns in its critical infrastructure, cyber attacks on its institutions and an unusual avalanche of refugees to its border with Russia, incidents that Helsinki describes as hybrid aggressions by the Kremlin.

Leadership against the Russian threat

The increase in tensions has given special relevance to these presidential elections, since on this occasion the Finns are looking above all for a head of state who is capable of facing any type of threat that comes from Russia.

In this sense, the two candidates make an effort to highlight their leadership skills in the debates and agree that the president should continue to be the commander in chief of the Armed Forces and the highest representative of the Nordic country in the NATO.

The main difference between the two is that Stubb does not rule out allowing the transit of nuclear weapons through Finnish territory – something that current legislation prohibits – and is in favor of establishing a permanent allied base in the country, two measures that Haavisto does not share.

Instead, Stubb dismisses Haavisto’s proposal to extend mandatory military service or substitute social service to women, with the aim of improving defense and resilience capabilities.

Source: Gestion

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