Five things to know about Finland’s new ‘selfie’ president Alex Stubb

After two rounds of voting and a particularly tight race, Finland has a new president.

Alexander Stubb from the right-wing National Coalition Party (known locally as Kokoomus) beat left-wing Green politician Pekka Haavisto in Sunday’s ballot.

Here are five things we know about the Nordic nation’s new president:

1. Alex Stubb is from the liberal wing of his party: he’s pro-Europe, pro-marriage equality and avowedly internationalist. He’s served previously as party leader, prime minister and foreign minister, as well as having been an MEP in Brussels. He speaks Finnish, Swedish, English, French and German fluently. A keen sportsman – Stubb went to university in America on a golf scholarship – expect to see no shortage of pictures of the new Finnish president in tight lycra sportswear competing in iron man competitions or skiing, although he may have less time for those activities once he’s installed in the presidential palace in Helsinki.

2. Stubb says he wants to be a president who can unify the country. That’s no small order when his party Kokoomus runs the coalition government with the far-right Finns, and when contentious celebrities with homophobic posts, and politicians with convictions for racism-related offences, came out in support of him during the presidential election campaign. One recent Finnish study found 40% of Stubb’s supporters wouldn’t vote for his rival Haavisto because he is a gay man; while another survey found 30% of Finnish voters said they considered a candidate’s sexuality when casting a ballot. That’s a lot of unifying to be done.

Former Prime Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb of The National Coalition Party, during his press conference in Helsinki, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023.

3. Alex Stubb has never been shy about using social media and is known for his love of selfies with supporters – especially the celebrity kind. “For me social media has always been a spontaneous channel of communication,” Stubb wrote on X, formerly Twitter, in October 2021. “I manage my own account. I realise the risks. Have gotten burned many times.” He said it’s better to use social media to communicate, despite the risks, than not communicate at all.

4. A 2018 tweet of Stubb with his “old friend and colleague” Sergei Lavrov has not aged well, and he’s apologised for saying people who wanted to block Russian investment in a Finnish nuclear power plant were “Russophobes.”

4. Stubb will have to stay humble. One of the criticisms he’s received repeatedly in the past is that he has an arrogant and entitled attitude. That’s been dialled down a lot during this campaign where he worked hard to appear measured and collegial with his opponents but he needs to keep it up for at least six years in office (already at this stage many political observers doubt he would run for a second term).

5. Stubb has big shoes to fill in succeeding President Sauli Niinistö, who has enjoyed sky-high approval ratings from the Finnish public over the last two terms – 12 years – in office. There’s little doubt Stubb was attracted to the race by the renewed high profile of the Finnish presidency after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Finland’s NATO accession talks. A joke among the Helsinki press corps is that the most dangerous place to be in Finland is between Alex Stubb and a television camera – that may be true, but there are also lots of very mundane presidential obligations Stubb will have to fulfil away from the spotlight and he needs to show he’s equally interested in having afternoon coffee with pensioners, or touring a factory and military garrison as he is bounding on to the world stage grinning his signature big-toothed smile to television cameras.

At a meeting of Nordic foreign ministers in Denmark in 2011 he was famously caught on an open mic saying the meeting was “shit”, while the delegation’s deputy chided him saying “with his body language and words, our minister communicated that Nordic matters do not rate highly on his agenda.” Alex Stubb will have to tackle the dull and boring with as much enthusiasm as the international media attention he enjoys so much.

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