Stubb and Haavisto qualify for Finland's presidential run-off vote

Finns headed to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president, an office whose importance has grown as tensions increased with neighbouring Russia since the war in Ukraine. 

While the president's powers are limited, the head of state -- who also acts as supreme commander of Finland's armed forces -- helps direct foreign policy in collaboration with the government, meaning the changing geopolitical landscape in Europe will be the main concern for the winner, News.Az reports citing AFP. 

Two top politicians lead the pack of nine candidates: former conservative prime minister Alexander Stubb and ex-foreign minister Pekka Haavisto of the Green Party, who is running as an independent.

Polls closed at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) and public broadcaster Yle then published results of votes cast in advance, which showed Stubb in front with 28.3 percent followed by Haavisto with 25.8 percent.

Almost half, 44.5 percent, of eligible voters had cast their ballot in advance.

"Every vote is a relief and the fact that we've got that many votes at the start feels really good... I've never felt this grateful before," Stubb told Yle.

Trailing the frontrunners was far-right Finns Party candidate Jussi Halla-aho at 16.1 percent, who experts believed could potentially make it to the runoff second round.

Hallo-aho told Yle he believed his "share of the vote will improve as the counting of the election day votes progresses."

Voter Hannu Kuusitie told AFP the country needs a president with "leadership" and "humanity".

"Of course, he must also be tough when necessary," he added.


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