Finland’s center-right National Coalition Party was on course to take power in a general election Sunday after voter concerns about the economic outlook fed dissatisfaction with Social Democrat incumbent Sanna Marin, a star of the European left.
With 99 percent of votes counted, the National Coalition Party (NCP) under the leadership of Petteri Orpo had secured 48 of Finland’s 200 parliamentary seats, pushing Marin’s party into third place with 43. The far-right Finns Party was second with 46 seats.
The defeat of Marin would represent the latest blow for the European left with Germany’s Olaf Scholz under pressure at home and Sweden’s Magdalena Andersson voted out at a general election last September. Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen won a second term last fall only after a sharp shift to the political right.
Marin pushed a traditional left-leaning campaign in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, railing against proposed public spending cuts by the center-right and calling on Finns to back fiscal investments she said would lead to greater employment and economic growth.
But in the end, fears about rising public debt, a deep-seated concern in Finland, appeared to have undermined Marin’s prospects with NCP leader Orpo’s messaging on fiscal discipline winning voters to his side.
“This was a big win,” Orpo told supporters as the end of the vote count neared. “Our message has got through, the support is there, and Finns believe in the National Coalition Party.”
Orpo is now set to get the first shot at forming a government and he is likely to seek to include the anti-immigration Finns Party. He could also try to strike a deal with the Social Democrats to govern together although that looks less likely, experts say, after repeated clashes over economic policy between the two over recent months.
If Orpo were to fail to form a government, Marin could be offered a chance to build a coalition. She has said she doesn’t want to govern with the Finns, a party she has accused of making openly racist statements.
A change of government is expected to have little impact on Finland’s security stance, with the NCP a firm backer of the country’s accession to NATO and military support for Ukraine.
A popular figure
Marin, who took over as Social Democrat leader in 2019, remains a popular figure both at home and abroad. Her handling of the COVID pandemic was seen as effective and her pivot to supporting Finland’s entry into NATO was well received.
She also retained firm support among voters despite opposition claims that she lacked seriousness after she was filmed dancing and singing with friends at a party last summer.
The Social Democrats’ 43 seats in parliament represented a rise of 3 from the previous election in 2019 and she sought to portray that as a win of sorts.
“I am grateful that our support has increased and that we look set to receive more mandates,” Marin said as the results came in.
However, NCP’s result increased by 10 seats, boosted by Orpo’s promise to impose fiscal discipline.
As Finland has sought to bounce back from the pandemic, debt relative to GDP has risen and stood at 73 percent in the fourth quarter of last year from 66 percent a year earlier, most recent data show.
As the voting came to an end, Orpo suggested reversing an expected recession would be his focus.
“We are starting government negotiations with the economy as the core issue,” Orpo said.