by Juhani Niinisto
HELSINKI, June 14 (Xinhua) -- The delegates of a traditional conservative party of Finland on Saturday elected a value liberal and supporter of Finnish membership in NATO as its chairman.
Alexander Stubb, aged 46, succeeds Jyrki Katainen as the chairman of the ruling National Coalition Party, and will take Katainen's post as the prime minister later this month.
Addressing the party assembly before the vote on Saturday, Stubb said that, if elected, he would have to convince both the "nation's leadership" and the people about the NATO issue.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto had made outspoken caution towards ideas of a Finnish membership in NATO and public support level of a membership was at 22 percent in April.
Commenting to Xinhua, Timo Soikkanen, professor of political history at Turku University, said that Stubb will probably be the most pro-Western prime minister of Finland since World War Two.
Soikkanen said the pro-NATO attitude within the Finnish elite has been evident since the start of the Ukraine crisis.
On the Finnish ideological scene, the election of Stubb as party chairman is likely to enhance liberal attitudes within the Finnish conservative party, Soikkanen said.
In the first domestic political reactions, the chairman of the populist Finns party Timo Soini described Stubb as a "NATO hawk" and said that the party had switched from conservatism to liberalism.
In the final vote within the National Coalition Party in Lahti, central southern Finland, Stubb defeated moderate conservative social affairs minister Paula Risikko 500-349. In the first round of the election economic affairs minister Jan Vapaavuori dropped off the race, having got a few votes less than Risikko.
The formal change of the cabinet posts will be preceded by policy talks between the coalition partners. The Finnish five-party coalition government is to review next week agreements on economic savings plans agreed during the previous cabinet.
The talks may not be totally without friction as the second main party in the coalition, the Social Democratic Party, has difficulty in accepting them without at least some changes.
The support levels of the social democrats have been declining and their new chairman Antti Rinne is facing pressure to try to alleviate the impact of the savings.
Stubb was a member of European Parliament 2003-2008. He served as Finnish foreign minister 2008-2011. Since 2011 he has been the minister for Europe affairs and foreign trade.
In the 2014 election for EU Parliament last month, Stubb gathered the largest voter support in Finland.
Stubb's native language is Swedish. He is the first native Swedish speaker as prime minister of Finland since social democrat K. A. Fagerholm in the 1950s.