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Finland’s center-right party claims win amid tight election

With the top three parties expected to each get around 20% of the vote in Sunday’s election, no party is in position to form a government alone

National Coalition Chairman Petteri Orpo celebrates at the party's parliament election wake after seeing the results of the advance votes in Helsinki, Finland, on April 2, 2023.
National Coalition Chairman Petteri Orpo celebrates at the party's parliament election wake after seeing the results of the advance votes in Helsinki, Finland, on April 2, 2023.Associated Press/LaPresse Antti Aimo-Koivisto (APN)

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin appears to have lost her bid for a second term on Sunday, with her party headed for defeat by two conservative opponents in an extremely tight three-way race for control of parliament. The center-right National Coalition Party claimed victory Sunday evening with around 97.7% of the votes counted, coming out on top at 20.7%. They were followed closely by right-wing populist party The Finns with 20.1%, while the Social Democrats garnered 19.9%.

With the top three parties each getting around 20% of the vote, no party is in position to form a government alone. Over 2,400 candidates from 22 parties were vying for the 200 seats in the Nordic country’s parliament.

“Based on this result, talks over forming a new government to Finland will be initiated under the leadership of the National Coalition Party,” said the party’s leader Petteri Orpo, as he claimed victory surrounded by supporters.

Marin, who at age 37 is one of Europe’s youngest leaders, has received praise for her Cabinet’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and for her prominent role, along with President Sauli Niinistö, in advocating for Finland’s successful application to join NATO. Her vocal support of Ukraine in the last year has increased her international visibility.

Marin remains popular at home but her party’s views on the Finnish economy, which emerged as the main campaign theme, were being challenged by conservatives.

Orpo had hammered on economic issues at a campaign event Saturday. “The most important thing in the next government is to fix our economy, push economic growth, balance public economy. And the second very important issue is to build up NATO-Finland,” Orpo told The Associated Press in Espoo, just outside the capital.

The Finns leader Riikka Purra emphasized the populist party would focus on shaping policies regarding migration, climate, criminal and energy if it becomes a partner in the next government.

“We also want to tighten up our attitude towards the European Union,” Purra said during a campaign event in the municipality of Kirkkonummi, her home district located some 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Helsinki.

After voting at Helsinki City Hall, university professor Mariana Seppänen said she thinks Marin’s positive reputation abroad exceeds the prime minister’s domestic popularity.

“I think usually the party that has been in charge and has the prime minister ... loses the election, and the criticism has been very harsh,” Seppänen said. “But I think she (Marin) has a lot of support anyway.”

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Finland to seek NATO membership in May 2022, neither the historic decision to abandon the nation’s non-alignment policy nor the war have emerged as major campaign issues. Finland shares a long land border with Russia.

Apart from Finland’s economy, other issues the parties debated during the election campaign were the government’s increasing debt, climate change, education, immigration and social benefits.

“I know Sanna Marin is very popular, and she has done great, and most Finns also think that she has done an amazing job with the coronavirus,” another voter, Evelina Mäkelä, said in Helsinki.

“But maybe we have to look at the new crisis that we have; some of us still believe that she does a very good job. Other people want something new, apparently,” Mäkelä said.

Finland, which is expected to join NATO in the coming weeks, is a European Union member with a population of 5.5 million.

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