Finland’s center-right National Alliance party was on course to take power in Sunday’s general election, after voter concerns about the economic outlook disaffected Social Democratic 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 won 48 of Finland’s 200 parliamentary seats, relegating Marin’s party to third place with 43. The far-right Finns Party came second with 46 seats.
Marin’s defeat would be the latest blow to the European left, with Germany’s Olaf Scholz under pressure at home and Sweden’s Magdalena Andersen voted out in a general election last September. Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen won a second term last fall after a sharp shift to the political right.
Marin ran a traditionally left-leaning campaign ahead of Sunday’s vote, opposing public spending cuts proposed by the center-right and calling on Finns to support financial investments he said would lead to more employment and economic growth.
But ultimately, fears of rising public debt, deep anxiety in Finland, and NCP leader Orpo’s message of fiscal discipline to win voters to his side undermined Marin’s chances.
“It’s a big win,” Arbo told supporters as the vote count closed. “Our message has been received, the support is there, and Finns trust the National Alliance.”
Orbo is now set to have his first attempt at forming a government, and he may seek to include the anti-immigration Finns Party. He may try to strike a deal to co-govern with the Social Democrats, but that seems unlikely, experts say, after repeated clashes between the two over economic policy in recent months.
If Orbo fails to form a government, Marin may be given the chance to form a coalition. He has said he does not want to form a government with the Finns, a party he accuses of making openly racist statements.
The change in government is expected to have little impact on Finland’s security posture, with the NCP providing firm support for the country’s accession to NATO and military support for Ukraine.
A famous person
Marin, who took over as leader of the Social Democratic Party in 2019, is a popular figure both at home and abroad. His handling of the Covid pandemic was seen as effective and his initiative to support Finland’s entry into NATO was well received.
After he was filmed dancing and singing with friends at a party last summer, he has retained solid support among voters despite opposition claims that he lacks seriousness.
The Social Democrats’ 43 seats in parliament represented 3 more than in the previous election in 2019, and he tried to portray it as a victory of sorts.
“I am grateful that our support has increased and we are ready to receive more mandates,” Marin said after the results.
However, the NCP’s result increased by 10 seats, buoyed by Orpo’s pledge to impose financial discipline.
As Finland seeks to recover from the pandemic, debt-to-GDP ratio rose to 73 percent from 66 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the most recent data showed.
Orpo suggested his focus would be to reverse the expected slowdown once the polls close.
“We are starting government negotiations with the economy as the main issue,” Orpo said.