Finnish PM Stubb, a star whose lustre has faded

Finnish PM Stubb, a star whose lustre has faded

HELSINKI - Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has long been one of Finland's most popular and dynamic politicians but voters are expected to punish him in Sunday's election for failing to revive a slumping economy.

Stubb, the head of the conservative National Coalition Party, has only headed the left-right government since June, when he took over from Finland's other political prodigy Jyrki Katainen, who left to join the European Commission.

A "modern leader for a modern country", Sweden's former foreign minister Carl Bildt tweeted when Stubb took over the government.

But Stubb, 47, has failed to push through his policies during his 10 months in office, a doomed social and health care reform a case in point.

His coalition government's popularity has consistently declined since he took power: only 11 per cent of Finns consider the government has done "good" or "very good" work, according to a poll in Finland's paper of reference Helsingin Sanomat published a week before the election.

Some 57 per cent of Finns said Stubb had failed at his goals - the main one being to get the economy on track after a three-year slump.

Stubb's conservative National Coalition Party was the big winner in the last legislative elections in 2011, and again in the European elections in May 2014.

But now it is credited with barely 17 per cent of votes, neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats and the right-wing eurosceptic Finns Party, and far behind the agrarian-liberal Centre Party which is expected to come out on top, credited with 24 per cent of voter support.

Up until June, Stubb, with a stellar smile and Nordic good looks, looked like he could do no wrong.

He served as a member of the European parliament from 2004 until 2008, as Finland's foreign minister from 2008 to 2011, and then European affairs and foreign trade minister until 2014 - all the while building up an impressive international network of world leaders.

He embodied dynamism and energy in a country struggling with one of the most rapidly aging populations and with two pillars of its economy - forestry and technology - in decline.

A market liberal, a supporter of Finnish NATO membership and an ardent pro-European, Stubb is also the politician with the highest online profile, with some 202,000 Twitter followers.

His relaxed style - he is a keen amateur triathlete and marathon runner, who has been known to hold press conferences in shorts - has been popular with young urbanites, but less so with older rural voters.

During the election campaign, he has asked voters to give him more time to pursue his reforms, stalled amid discord in his four-party coalition.

He has vowed to cut income taxes by up to two billion euros (S$2.9 billion) over the next four years, and freeze index-based benefit increases.

Stubb was raised bilingual Finnish and Swedish, and also speaks English, French and German.

He studied at the College of Europe in the Belgian city of Bruges and holds degrees from the London School of Economics, Furman University in South Carolina and the Sorbonne in Paris.

He is married to a British lawyer, with whom he has two children.

 

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