Finns vote as far right aims to unseat PM Sanna Marin

The vote comes just days ahead of Finland's formal accession to the NATO defence alliance

Published - April 02, 2023 09:20 pm IST - Helsinki

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin greets voters at a Social Democrat campaign rally, a day before the parliamentary election, in Helsinki, Finland April 1, 2023.

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin greets voters at a Social Democrat campaign rally, a day before the parliamentary election, in Helsinki, Finland April 1, 2023. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Finns voted on Sunday in legislative elections that could see the country take a dramatic turn to the right, as centre-right and anti-immigration parties vie to unseat Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

After the breakthrough by nationalists in neighbouring Sweden and the far right's victory in Italy last year, Finland could become the latest country to join the nationalist wave in Europe.

First results are expected around 8:00 p.m. local time.

The vote comes just days ahead of Finland's formal accession to the NATO defence alliance.

"The polls show that the more right-wing political trend in Finland is gaining strength," Juho Rahkonen from the E2 research institute told AFP.

Traditionally, the biggest of the eight main parties in parliament gets the first chance to build a government, and since the 1990s that party has always claimed the Prime Minister's office.

"We are aiming to win this election and continue our work for a more sustainable future," Ms. Marin told reporters at her final campaign event in Helsinki on Saturday.

But the latest survey published on Thursday by public broadcaster Yle showed the centre-right National Coalition holding a thin lead at 19.8%, with the nationalist eurosceptic Finns Party in second place at 19.5.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by Ms. Marin, who took office in 2019 as the world's youngest Prime Minister at age 34, was in third place with 18.7%.

"We have had a great campaign. We have the best candidates all over Finland and we are first in the polls, so I'm optimistic," National Coalition leader Petteri Orpo told AFP at a campaign rally on Saturday.

While Ms. Marin ranks as Finland's most popular prime minister this century in polls, she is struggling to convert her popularity into SDP seats in parliament.

"Although she is exceptionally popular, she also arouses opposition. The political divide has been reinforced," Mr. Rahkonen said.

While some view her as a strong leader who deftly navigated the Covid-19 pandemic and the NATO membership process, others see the rising public debt on her watch and backlash over video clips of her partying as signs of her inexperience.

"I liked Ms. Marin ... but I don't personally believe that her ideas about economic policy are something she and her government can actually achieve," 29-year-old voter Kasper Kylmala told AFP after casting his ballot.

Finland's debt-to-GDP ratio has risen from 64% in 2019 to 73%, which Orpo's National Coalition wants to address by cutting spending by six billion euros ($6.5 billion).

Marin has accused the National Coalition of wanting to "take from the poor to give to the rich".

"I just feel like I have to vote because the 'rock star' Marin's time is over, she did nothing good," said 30-year-old Antti Piispanen, who works in sales.

A top spot for the far-right Finns Party, and a far-right Prime Minister, would be a first in Finland.

Finns Party leader Riikka Purra is poised to top her party's record score.

"What seems to be clear is that we are going to have a very good result," Purra said after voting Sunday in Kirkkonummi.

Her eurosceptic party wants a hard line on immigration, pointing to neighbouring Sweden's problems with gang violence as a cautionary tale.

Support for the populist party has surged since last summer, spurred by the decline in purchasing power following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Rahkonen said.

While the party served in a centre-right government in 2015, it has since turned more hardline.

"The nationalistic right-wing party is most likely going to win so I am doing my part in any way I can to try to stop that," 31-year-old voter Markus Hallsten told AFP at a Helsinki polling station.

Negotiations to build a government are expected to be thorny.

Ms. Marin has ruled out forming a government with what she calls the "openly racist" Finns Party, while Mr. Orpo has said he will keep his options open, despite clashing with the Finns Party on immigration, the EU and climate policy.

The Finns Party sees "Fixit" — an exit from the European Union — as a long-term goal and wants to postpone Finland's target of carbon neutrality for 2035.

This gives Mr. Orpo a central role in forming the next government, as both the Finns Party and the SDP would probably need him to obtain a majority.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.