As a citizen of both the United States and Finland I have the privilege of voting in two Presidential elections this year. There is a difference in the President’s role in the two counties. In Finland, the President’s primary responsibility relates to foreign affairs and representing the country in international alliances such as the EU and NATO. The Prime Minister and his multi-party cabinet focus mainly, but not exclusively, on domestic issues.
The Finnish election process started last Fall with 8 candidates, 3 women and 5 men, vying for the position. The public watched several civil, issue-focused debates and met the candidates as they traveled across the country.
No candidate received more than 50% of the vote on January 28th, so a run-off took place this past Sunday between the two highest vote getters - Alexander Stubb (55) a former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Pekka Haavisto (65), a longtime Member of Parliament and Finland’s former Foreign Minister. During the past two weeks there have been additional televised debates between the two candidates.
Stubb won the election by a very narrow margin, 51.6% to 48.4%, and will assume office for a six-year term on March 1st. Stubb, who went to university in the US, has also been a Vice President at the European Investment Bank and Professor at the European University Institute. He has an MA in political science European Affairs from the College of Europe and a PhD from the London School of Economics. He speaks Finnish, Swedish, English, German, and French.
What was striking throughout the process has been the focus on what is at stake for the country - Finland’s international relationships, defense and security, and the experience of the candidates to lead the country in these challenging times. Personal attacks and epithets were not part of the campaign. In many observers’ views, either candidate would have been an excellent representative for the country.
After winning the election, Stubb said, "It's been very constructive, very positive, and in many ways very respectful. It's been a victory I think for liberal democracy. The reason for that is, for us foreign and security policy is existential.”
And in what I think is a very telling gesture about Finland and the country’s solidarity, after the results were declared and BEFORE celebrating with his own supporters, Stubb visited the headquarters of the Haavisto campaign where he said, “Pekka, you are one of the finest persons I’ve ever met.” He added, “We are not done, there is work to be done… together.”
A big win for democracy and for Finland’s future.