Finns choose new president for NATO era with Russia in mind

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Written by Anne Kuranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland will elect a new president on Sunday to lead the country in its new role within NATO after abandoning decades of non-alignment to join the Western defense alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Nordic country’s accession to NATO last year sparked threats of “countermeasures” from its vast Russian neighbour. In December, Finland completely closed its border with Russia to passenger traffic in response to an increase in the number of migrants trying to cross. Moscow denied Finnish accusations that it sent them there.

All nine candidates promise to take a tough stance on Russia if elected president, a role that leads foreign and security policy in close cooperation with the government and represents the country at NATO meetings, while also serving as commander-in-chief of the Finnish armed forces. Defense Forces.

Alexander Stubb of the center-right National Coalition emerged as the favorite, with recent opinion polls giving him support of between 22 and 27 percent in the first round, just ahead of liberal Green Party member Pekka Haavisto, who received 20 to 23 percent of the vote.

The nationalist Finns’ Jussi Hala Ahu party is not far behind Haavisto, with 15% to 18%.

Bank of Finland Governor Olli Rehn and Social Democratic EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen were among the other six candidates from across the political spectrum.

If no one receives more than 50% of the votes on Sunday, a runoff will be held between the first and second candidates.

Partial results are expected shortly after polls close at 1800 GMT, and the contenders for a potential runoff are expected to be clear by 2030 GMT unless the results are very close.

The new president will replace current President Sauli Niinistö, 75, who must step down after two six-year terms.

He earned the nickname “Putin Whisperer” during his tenure for his role in maintaining close ties with Russia, which has long been a key role for Finnish presidents.

(Reporting by Anne Kuranen in Helsinki; Editing by Terje Solsvik in Oslo and Philippa Fletcher)

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