Finns are expected to re-elect moderate Sauli Niinisto for a second six-year term in elections on Sunday, counting on his skill and caution to ensure a close relationship with NATO without antagonizing neighboring Russia. Niinisto, 69, is credited with helping Finland perform a delicate balancing act between the Kremlin and the U.S.-led military alliance, of which it is not a member but with which it developed closer ties after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014. Latest opinion polls by Alma Media and Helsingin Sanomat show support of 58-68 percent for Niinisto, who is originally from conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) – a member of Helsinki’s ruling coalition – but campaigns as an independent.
His closest rival, Pekka Haavisto of the Greens of Finland, has the support of 11-14 percent of respondents in the polls, while six other candidates share a combined backing of 21-28 percent.
Many Finns are wary of Russia, with which their Nordic country shares a 1,340 km (833 miles) border and a history of two wars between 1939 and 1944 which cost Finland substantial territory.