Helsinki – Finland’s former prime minister Alexander Stubb and ex-foreign minister Pekka Haavisto lead a pack of nine candidates running in the country’s presidential election on Sunday.
Elected to a six-year term, the president has limited powers. But he does lead foreign policy together with the government, and the role has therefore gained importance since Finland’s eastern neighbour Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Here are brief profiles of the three main candidates.
Alexander Stubb, a former PM
Prime minister of Finland from 2014 to 2015, 55-year-old conservative Stubb has returned to politics to run for president after several years in academia and is leading in the polls.
He spent the past three years as director of the Florence School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Italy, after losing the race for the EU Commission presidency in 2018.
Elected to the European Parliament in 2004, he went on to become foreign minister in 2008 and later held the portfolios for finance and European affairs.
In 2014, when he was prime minister, he came under fire from the media for wearing shorts to a press conference about the situation in Ukraine, and then acting as a human dartboard in a theme park.
According to Stubb himself, one of his biggest mistakes as prime minister was to grant permission for the construction of a nuclear power plant together with Russian state-owned Rosatom.
In 2015, after his party came second in legislative elections, he switched to the role of finance minister.
He then lost the party leadership, and in 2017 he left the Finnish parliament to work as vice president of the European Investment Bank.
A keen triathlete, Stubb has put competitions on pause to focus on the race for president.
Pekka Haavisto, NATO architect
Former foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, a 65-year-old Greens party member who is running as an independent, is one of the architects of Finland’s NATO membership, overseeing a historic policy reversal ending decades of military non-alignment.
An experienced diplomat, Haavisto got his baptism in conflict resolution when he was sent to negotiate the release of a group of Finns taken captive in Kuwait after Iraq’s invasion in 1990.
Later, he served as a United Nations diplomat and acted as the EU Special Representative for Sudan from 2005 to 2007, contributing to the Darfur peace talks.
He has run for the presidency twice before, in 2012 and 2018, losing both times to outgoing President Sauli Niinisto of the conservative party.
Having served as a minister in five different governments, Haavisto would become one of the few environmentalist leaders in Europe if elected.
Described as a workaholic, he is often characterised as assertive and occasionally impolite, expecting his colleagues to adhere to his industrious work ethic.
Haavisto is gay and is credited with helping increase openness and tolerance in Finland.
He is also known as an amateur DJ, using the name DJ Pexi.
Jussi Halla-aho, anti-immigration linguist
Far-right Finns Party candidate Jussi Halla-aho, 52, is in third place in the polls.
Softly-spoken and bookish, the current speaker of parliament does not fit the image of a populist politician but has the firm backing of his party.
Halla-aho has his controversial blog Scripta, which he started in 2005, to thank for his career in politics, using it to voice criticism of the media and immigration alike.
The blog and readers’ comments have come under scrutiny in the media for their links to racism and far-right ideology.
Blog posts he wrote in 2008 attacking Somalis and Islam landed him a conviction for ethnic agitation and disturbing religious worship.
In 2011, he was elected an MP when the far-right Finns Party went from a small player to the third biggest in parliament.
A long-standing critic of Russia, he warned back in 2019 against the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
He is firmly pro-Ukrainian, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarding him a medal last year.
A former linguist with a PhD in Old Church Slavonic, Halla-aho is fluent in Ukrainian and his language skills garnered praise after he gave a speech in the Ukrainian parliament in November last year.
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