Finland goes to the polls to elect a new president

HELSINKI (AP) — Voters in Finland elected a new president on Sunday in an unprecedented time for the now-defunct Scandinavian nation. Member of NATO With its east Closing the border with Russia – Two things that were almost unthinkable a few years ago.

Polling stations across the country opened their doors at nine in the morning (0700 GMT) and will close at eight in the evening (1800 GMT).

Unlike most European countries, Pres Finland It holds executive authority in formulating foreign and security policy, especially when dealing with countries outside the European Union such as the United States, Russia, and China.

The President also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Army, a particularly important duty in the current security environment in Europe.

About 4.5 million citizens have the right to vote to choose Finland's new head of state from a pool of nine candidates – six men and three women. They are choosing a very popular successor President Sauli NiinistöHis second six-year term ends in March. He is not eligible for re-election.

Eve Kinnunen, who cast her vote at a polling station in the center of the capital, Helsinki, said: “I expect strong leadership in the current global situation.”

No candidate is expected to receive more than 50% of the votes The first round of voting is on Sundaypushing the race to a runoff in February.

Recent opinion polls indicate that former Prime Minister Alexander Staub55 years old, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Becca Havesto65, are the main contenders.

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It is estimated that Stubb, who represents the conservative National Coalition Party and headed the Finnish government in 2014-2015, and veteran politician Haavisto, a former UN diplomat who is running for this position for the third time, will receive between 23% and 27% of the votes. Votes.

They are followed by Parliament Speaker and former leader of the far-right Finns Party, Jossi Halla-aho, with about 18%. Bank of Finland Governor and former European Union Commissioner Olli Rehn is expected to receive about 14% of the votes.

Finland's new head of state will begin a six-year term in March in a markedly different geopolitical and security situation in Europe than was the case with incumbent President Niinistö after the 2018 elections.

After abandoning decades of military non-alignment in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Finland became the 31st member of NATO in April, much to the annoyance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom it shares a 1,340-kilometre (832-mile) border. With the northern countries. his mom.

NATO membership, which made Finland a front-line state in the Western military alliance vis-à-vis Russia, and the war raging in Ukraine just a thousand kilometers from Finland's borders, have strengthened the president's position as a leader of security policy.

In keeping with consensus-oriented Finnish politics, months of campaigning have gone smoothly between the candidates. They all agree on key foreign policy issues such as Finland's future policies towards Russia, strengthening security cooperation with the United States and the need to continue assisting Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid.

Membership in the military alliance “also means that NATO has to have a new Arctic dimension because NATO becomes stronger in the Arctic region when both Finland and Sweden are members,” Pekka Haavisto told The Associated Press during his latest campaign event at a just-released music bar. Outside Helsinki, late Saturday.

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As Foreign Minister, Haavisto, a member of the Green League and running as an independent candidate, signed Finland's historic accession treaty to NATO last year and played a key role in the membership process.

Sweden, the western neighbour, is set to join NATO in the near future, with Hungary, the last holdout, expected to ratify Stockholm's offer by the end of February.

Advance voting results will be confirmed shortly after polls close, and preliminary results from Sunday's vote are expected around midnight (2200 GMT). The results of the first round will be officially confirmed on Tuesday.

A potential second round of voting between the candidates with the most votes is scheduled to take place on February 11.

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Associated Press writers Kostya Manenkov and Sergey Gretz contributed.

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