Finland votes in a close parliamentary election on Sunday as Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin will try to hold onto power against her right-wing and far-right rivals.
Stop or start over? Popular Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin will seek a second term against her right-wing and far-right rivals in a closely-contested parliamentary election on Sunday 2 April in Finland.
The 37-year-old leader, who has gained international recognition in four years, ranks third in the latest polls, but tied with the leader of the center-right National Coalition, Petteri Orpo, and the leader of the Finnish party, anti-immigration and eurosceptic, Riikka Purra.
The post of prime minister traditionally falls to the leader of Finland’s main party, so the final order of arrival is crucial. According to the latest opinion poll published on Thursday, the National Coalition would lead with 19.8 percent, ahead of the Finns Party with 19.5 percent, and after Sanna Marin’s SDP with a 18.7 percent, small differences that are within the margin of error.
“It’s a suspense situation and it’s hard to say right now which party will be first on voting day,” said Tuomo Turja of the Taloustutkimus polling company.
“Sanna Marin is a divisive figure”
The Finns Party has already been in government, before a split in 2017 in which a more radical line prevailed. But if he emerges victorious on Sunday, it would be a first that could see him break his electoral record (19.05% in 2011)… and another gust of wind on the European political scene.
Unknown even to many Finns when she came to power in late 2019, Sanna Marin has built a global reputation as the world’s youngest leader, a title she has since lost.
He came to the head of the Government after the resignation of his colleague Antti Rinne, and it is the first time that he has led his formation in the electoral battle.
She is the most popular Prime Minister of the 21st century, but her image at home is much more uneven than abroad.
“Sanna Marin is a divisive figure. She has fans like a rock star, but on the other hand there are a lot of people who can’t stand her,” says Marko Junkkari, a political journalist for the leading daily Helsingin Sanomat.
His five-party coalition government, made up of the Social Democrats, the Center, the Greens, the Left Alliance and a Swedish-speaking party, has been floundering for several months. The centrist party has already warned that it will refuse to renew the outgoing alliance.
Sanna Marin is under attack from the opposition for the debt, which has increased almost 10 points of GDP during her tenure. “The forecasts are very bad. Our public finances will collapse and this will lead to the erosion of the foundations of our welfare state,” Petteri Orpo, who advocates a savings plan of 6 billion euros, told AFP.
Anti-immigration sentiment and inflationary pressures
All three major parties are in a position to improve on their 2019 results, but the biggest gain since last summer has been for the Finnish party, which has capitalized on anti-immigration sentiment and inflationary pressures.
The party has turned neighboring Sweden into a rebuttal, pointing to its endless migrant gang warfare in a Finland where the proportion of foreign-born residents remains among the lowest in Europe. “We don’t want to go the way of Sweden. We point out the effects of a dangerous immigration policy,” Riikka Purra told AFP.
His party sees leaving the EU as a long-term goal and wants to push back Finland’s carbon neutrality target, currently set for 2035.
Negotiations to form a government will be difficult in elections marked by a record percentage of women party leaders: seven out of eight.
The Center Party, once a heavyweight in Finnish politics, has fallen from first place in 2015 to its lowest position, after eight years of right-wing and then left-wing governments. Even in the likely case of a bad score, his choice of alliance will be crucial, as without it the right and far right have little chance of building a majority.
Another option favored by some analysts is a government of left-right unity. “Currently, the most likely scenario is a blue-red government based on the National Coalition and the SDP,” says Tuomo Turja.
The elections come just days before what will be a historic date for Finland, with possible NATO membership next week. But the election result is unlikely to derail the process, as all major parties now advocate joining the Atlantic Alliance, a shift brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
*With AFP; adapted from its original in French