Alexander Stubb wins ruling party vote to become Finland's PM

Alexander Stubb is set to become Finland's new prime minister after he won a vote to head the ruling conservative party on Saturday.

Stubb, 46, currently European and trade minister in Finland, will replace Jyrki Katainen, who said in April he would step down to seek a job within the European institutions.

He defeated Social Affairs Minister Paula Risikko by 500 votes to 349 in the second round of polling by members of Finland's national coalition. Industry Minister Jan Vapaavuori, a controversial candidate with a criminal record, came third.

Stubb is a former foreign minister known for his liberal economic stance. Staunchly pro-EU and an advocate of Finland's accession to NATO, he is faced immediately with an economy mired in recession.

Finland has endured eight consecutive quarters of decline or stagnation in gross domestic product (-0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014) making for the country's longest recession in 20 years.

Public debt, just under 50 percent of GDP when Katainen took office in 2011, will this year surpass the European Union limit of 60 percent, putting Finland's cherished Triple A credit rating in doubt.

The Finnish economy has been hit hard by a decline in the paper and electronic industries, an ageing population and rising unemployment which reached 8.5 percent in April.

The crisis in Ukraine and the weak ruble have also affected the Nordic economy which is heavily dependent on trade with neighbouring Russia.

All three prime ministerial candidates had pledged to follow the path of austerity laid out by Katainen.

Considered one of the most popular political figures in Finland, Stubb was an advisor to then European Commission president Romano Prodi between 2001 and 2003.

Stubb was also a member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2008 before being appointed Finland's foreign minister between 2008 and 2011.

Stubb will be thrown straight into campaign mode, with Finland's next general election needing to take place by April next year.

The conservative party -- officially, the Party of National Coalition -- has 44 of parliament's 200 seats. It came first in European elections in May with 22.6 percent of the vote, ahead of its main rivals, the Centre Party with 19.7 percent and the eurosceptic and anti-immigration Finns party on 12.9 percent.

Katainen will submit his resignation to Finland's President Sauli Niinistoe on Monday and announce Stubb as his successor, along with the new make up of a government which delicately balances members of five separate parties.