Alexander Stubb (NCP) and Pekka Haavisto (Greens) attended a presidential debate held ahead of the second round of voting by YLE on Thursday, 1 February 2024. The debate revealed some differences between the candidates over how the president should address the current volatile labour market situation. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES Pekka Haavisto (Greens) and Alexander Stubb (NCP) disagree on the role the president should take amid the tense labour market situation, reveals a one-on-one debate hosted by YLE on Thursday.

Haavisto stressed to the public broadcaster that the government should refrain from forcing trade unions into submission as such moves typically lead to retaliation in the next electoral term.

“I’d make it clear to the nation that Finland is a contract society and I’d recommend that we agree also on this,” he said, adding that a discussion about the future of the contract society is fundamentally one about values.

Haavisto, who is officially the candidate of a constituency association despite his long-running ties to the Green League, also called for action to make sure the strikes do not cause harm to citizens in the form of soaring energy costs, for example.

Stubb reminded that President Sauli Niinistö has not commented publicly on the labour market conflict, acknowledging that it is unknown whether the president has engaged in behind-the-curtain talks with the conflict parties.

“He’s used his value leadership sparingly because even the faintest whisper from the president’s mouth quickly turns into a megaphone,” he analysed.

Stubb added that he would not blame anyone for the ongoing, almost unprecedented series of political strikes. He also voiced his hope that labour market organisations themselves can resolve the situation.

“A candidate taking sides here would make the situation difficult because he himself would become a party [to the conflict], a part of either the government or the opposition,” he said, viewing that the president commenting on the dispute would only widen the divisions. “On a general level, [the president] could call for a solution or hold discussions with different parties.”

The president could only intervene in a labour market dispute if it posed a threat to national security or a key aspect of the security of supply, according to Stubb.

Another issue that divided the candidates is the possibility of permanently stationing Nato troops and weaponry in Finland. While Haavisto reminded that the nuclear energy act prohibits the stationing of nuclear weapons in the country, Stubb messaged to both Nato and Russia that the act can be amended to remove any restrictions on stationing or transporting nuclear weapons in the country.

Stubb also expressed his hope that around 40–50 Nato officers would be stationed permanently in command duties in Finland. Haavisto, by contrast, argued that co-operation on military exercises makes the permanent stationing of officers unnecessary.

Haavisto and Stubb face each other in the second round of the presidential elections is on Sunday, 11 February 2024. The advance voting period will end overseas on 3 February and in Finland on 6 February.

The presidential hopefuls looked to appeal especially to the 34.3 per cent of voters whose first-round vote went to Jussi Halla-aho (PS) or Olli Rehn (Centre).

“Well, there were excellent candidates in the first round, and I believe I said at some point that I’d sleep well in a republic ruled by Rehn,” remarked Haavisto.

Stubb appeared to scale down his efforts not to appear as the candidate of the ruling right-wing coalition by wishing Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) success navigating challenges faced by the national economy.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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