The centre-right Finnish National Coalition party was on course to take power in a general election on Sunday after voters’ concerns about the economic outlook led to dissatisfaction with Sanna Marin, a lawmaker with the Social Democratic Party, a star of the European left.
With 99 percent of the votes counted, Petteri Urbu’s National Coalition Party secured 48 of the 200 seats in the Finnish parliament, pushing Marin’s party into third place with 43 seats. The far-right Finns party came in second with 46 seats.
Marin’s defeat would be the latest blow to the European left, with Germany’s Olaf Schultz under pressure at home and Sweden’s Magdalena Andersson voting in the general election last September. Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen won a second term only last fall after a sharp turn to the political right.
Marin promoted a traditionally left-leaning campaign in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, opposing proposed public spending cuts by the centre-right and calling on Finns to support financial investments that she said would lead to higher employment and economic growth.
But in the end, fears of rising public debt, a deeply rooted concern in Finland, seemed to dampen Marin’s prospects with NCP leader Urbu’s messages about fiscal discipline drawing voters to his side.
“This was a huge win,” Urbu told his supporters as the vote count drew to a close. “Our message has arrived, the support is there, and the Finns believe in the National Coalition Party.”
Orpo is now set to get his first chance to form a government and is likely to seek the inclusion of the anti-immigration Finns Party. He might also try to strike a deal with the Social Democrats to rule together although that seems less likely, experts say, after frequent clashes over economic policy between the two over recent months.
If Orpo fails to form a government, Marin may be offered a chance to build a coalition. She said she did not want to rule with the Finns, the party she accused of making openly racist remarks.
The change of government is expected to have little impact on Finland’s security stance, as the National Congress Party strongly supports the country’s accession to NATO and military support for Ukraine.
Marin, who took over as leader of the Social Democratic Party in 2019, is still a popular figure at home and abroad. Its handling of the COVID pandemic was seen as effective and its pivot in support of Finland’s accession to NATO was welcome.
She also retained strong support among voters despite opposition claims that she lacked seriousness after she was photographed dancing and singing with her friends at a party last summer.
The SPD’s 43 seats in Parliament represented an increase of 3 from the previous election in 2019 and sought to portray this as a win of sorts.
“I am grateful for our increased support and we look forward to receiving more commissions,” Marin said as the results came in.
However, the NCP’s result rose by 10 seats, buoyed by Orbo’s promise to enforce fiscal discipline.
As Finland sought to recover from the pandemic, debt relative to gross domestic product rose and reached 73 percent in the fourth quarter of last year from 66 percent a year earlier, according to the latest data.
As the vote draws to a close, Orpo suggested his focus should be on reversing an expected recession.
“We are starting government negotiations with the economy as the main issue,” Urbu said.
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