Finland’s prime minister Juha Sipila offered congratulations to the opposition after his Center Party suffered heavily at the polls on Sunday.
The outcome would appear to give Social Democratic leader Antti Rinne, a former finance minister, the task of finding coalition partners to form the first left-leaning government in two decades.
What do the polls say?
- The opposition center-left Social Democratic Party was expected to emerge top, with 18.9% support after about half of the votes were counted.
- The conservative National Coalition Party, which is in the outgoing center-right governing coalition, was garnering 17.2% of the vote by mid-count.
- Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Center Party initially looked set to clinch third place with 15.4%.
- The nationalist True Finns party, which had been tipped for third place, was on about 15%.
‘We have to wait’
Social Democrat leader Rinne said: “It’s very exciting, but we have to wait for the final result.”
Prime Minister Sipila said that the results indicated that the party had dropped by 5 percentage points.
“The Center Party is the biggest loser in these elections. This result is a big disappointment for us. I want to congratulate the winners,” he said.
Likely numbers of seats
- The Social Democrats are projected to win 40 seats in the 200-seat legislature, six more than in the 2015 elections.
- The National Coalition Party, which looks set to come in second in terms of the vote, is projected to win 38 seats, a gain of one.
- The populist-nationalist Finns Party was tipped to win 38 seats. It won the same number of seats in 2015, before a split that saw more than half of the party’s lawmakers leave the parliamentary group.
- The Center Party appears set to have the fourth biggest share of the vote, shedding 19 seats and dropping to 30.
EU is watching
Finland is set to take over the rotating EU presidency on July 1. European capitals are watching the performance of the Finns Party, which saw its support surge in the run-up to the vote. Many observers expect similar euroskeptic and nationalist parties make strong gains in next month’s EU parliamentary elections.
Voter turnout was projected to be about 72 percent, higher than the 70.1 percent who voted in 2015.
What were the dominant campaign issues?
Welfare: The Social Democrats and other parties criticized Sipila’s outgoing center-right coalition for implementing welfare cuts in an attempt to reinvigorate the economy. Rinne advocated for increasing taxes and spending to preserve health and social benefits and a world-class education system.
Immigration: Only 6.6% of the population is foreign-born, the lowest rate in Western Europe. Until recently, immigration was only a minor election issue. However, the Finns Party has attracted voters from small towns and villages worried about the issue, especially following publicized incidents of alleged sexual assaults by migrants last year. Other party leaders have cautioned against anti-immigrant rhetoric and generalizations about migrants. Rinne supports moderate work-related immigration and taking in some asylum-seekers.
Climate change: Most parties support efforts to combat climate change, but they differed during the campaign on how far to go and at what cost. The Finns Party used the debate as a wedge issue to attract voters skeptical of the costs of further action.
rc/jlw (dpa, AFP)