Public broadcaster Yle predicts that Alexander Stubb and Becca Havisto will meet in the second round on February 11.
Alexander Stubb, the centre-right candidate of Finland's National Alliance party, looks set to win the first round of the country's presidential election on Sunday.
With 96 percent of the vote counted, Stubb was leading with 27.1 percent, Justice Ministry data showed, followed by Havisto with 25.7 percent and nationalist Jussi Halla-Aho in third place with 19.0 percent.
Public broadcaster Yle predicts Stubbs and Havisto will meet in the second round scheduled for February 11.
Finland is electing a new president to lead the country in its new role within NATO, breaking decades of non-alignment to join the Western security alliance in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
“I think Finns are looking for a new era president,” former prime minister Stubb told public broadcaster Yle.
Havisto, who served as foreign minister until last year, said he expected a runoff.
“It's a fantastic result from the first round and a huge gap to those behind us, so I'm sure we'll go into the second round with Alexander Stubb,” he told Yle.
War in Ukraine
The role of the President of Finland includes leading foreign and security policy in close cooperation with the government, representing the country at NATO meetings, and acting as the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defense Forces.
All three leading candidates are supporters of Ukraine and have called for tougher measures against Russia.
During their election campaigns, both Stubb and Havisto moved toward political neutrality, while Halla-Aho maintained his right-wing conservative profile.
For many Finns, the nationalist Halla-Aho is a divisive figure who attracts both loyal supporters and fierce opponents.
In Helsinki, Lena Poksha, 26, an early voter, told Reuters news agency that voting in the election was especially important because of the war in Ukraine and the difficult situation it has created.
Stubb, a cosmopolitan pro-European, was seen by Finns as the right person to lead the country's foreign policy at this time, Pokshaw said.
“I voted for Alexander Stubb because I think he is very good at dealing with other countries and he has good relations with people outside of Finland,” said Poksha, who went out with a friend and her child to vote on Sunday.
Jere Markkinen, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student, took a different view.
“I don't think he is [Stubb] “He would be a good president because he doesn't seem like he wants to represent the people, he wants to represent himself,” Markkinen told Reuters.
“He's experienced in foreign politics and has a reputation for being generally smart, unlike some of the other candidates.”
Finland's accession to NATO last year also drew threats of “countermeasures” from its biggest neighbor, Russia.
In December, Finland closed its entire border with Russia to passenger traffic as migrants attempted to cross. Moscow has denied Finnish accusations that it is sending migrants there.
The new Finland's president will replace 75-year-old Sauli Niinisto, who is due to step down after two six-year terms.
He earned the nickname “Putin's Whisperer” during his tenure, for his role in maintaining close ties with Russia, long a key role for Finnish presidents.