AS Finland braces for a presidential runoff, a fall of votes for the leftists and a steady rise in right-wing populism is keeping some citizens and analysts worried about the future of their country’s politics.

In the presidential election held on Sunday, Left-leaning PekkaLHaavisko came second to centre-right Alexander Stubb, with each candidate failing to garner majority votes enough to form the government. Haavisko obtained 25.8 percent of the vote against 27.2 percent of Stubb.

The far-right seems to have  gained an unfortunate momentum with a worrying 18.8 percent of the votes.

As one Helsinki-tbased renowned book publisher puts, “the Left has lost so many voters that do not exist any more… 19% for racist extreme right candidate is a scandal, of course.”

The Ombudsman Emeritus of the Finnish Union of Journalists, Juha Rekola, says the outcome was tactically planned by the voters:

“Actually Haavisto got about twice the Green Party votes and Halla-aho was on the same level of his conservative extreme right wing party. The left wing voters sacrificed their parties and voted for Haavisto.

“It’s called tactical voting. They saw their candidate could not reach the top two for the second round. (So, they) voted Haavisto to make sure the final choice wasn’t between the two most right-wing candidates, Halla-aho and Stubb.”

An anonymous Finnish scholar echoed similar feelings, expressing happiness “that the racist far-right party did not get more votes.”

Far-right contender Jussi Halla-Aho, who came third, will not take part in the runoff scheduled for 11th February, 2024. But 19 percent looks shockingly high for someone allegedly linked with inspiring a mass shooting incident in Utoya, Norway, a few years ago. 

It is clear, however, that far-right extremism is not confined to Finland. In recent times, it has been on the rise in several European countries, as a recent FES report indicates.

Why does the Finnish presidential election matter? 

It is understood that the president intervenes in many “important value-laden questions,” as he leads the army and the international affairs. He will represent Finland at NATO meetings.

And now with Russia involved in the war against Ukraine, this election has a special significance forFinland. Whoever is eventually elected will be Finland’s 13th president, for a six-year term in office.