Finland’s center-left Social Democratic Party was on pace to narrowly win parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to preliminary results after more than 95% of votes were counted.
The outcome appeared 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 are the results?
- The Social Democratic Party emerged with 17.8% support after campaigning against austerity imposed by the outgoing center-right government.
- The nationalist-populist Finns Party came second place at 17.6%.
- The conservative National Coalition Party, which is in the outgoing center-right governing coalition, was garnering more than 17% of the vote.
- Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Center Party looked set to finish in fourth place with just over 15%.
Climate and welfare policy
Social Democrat leader Rinne said: “For the first time since 1999 we are the largest party in Finland … SDP is the prime minister party.”
“Let us, my friends, take the Finnish society toward sustainable climate, social and economic policies,” he told supporters.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila offered congratulations to the opposition after his Center Party suffered heavily at the polls.
“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 Finns Party was tipped to win 39 seats. It won the same number in 2015, before a split that saw more than half of the party’s lawmakers leave the parliamentary group.
- The National Coalition Party, which looks set to come in third, is projected to hold on to its 37 seats.
- The Center Party appears set to have the fourth biggest share of the vote, shedding 17 seats and dropping to 32.
- The Greens and the Left Alliance were on track to win 20 and 16 seats, respectively.
- Voter turnout was projected to be about 72 percent, higher than the 70.1 percent who voted in 2015.
EU is watching
Finland is set to take over the rotating EU presidency on July 1. European capitals were 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. The Finns Party party is part of a nationalist bloc of European parties aiming to challenge EU policies on migration, security, family and environment.
What were the dominant campaign issues?
Welfare: Sipila’s outgoing center-right coalition had sought to implement a health care and social care reform plan, but failed to get it through the legislature. It also implemented unpopular 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.
Read more: Finland keeps crown as world’s happiest country
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 highly 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.
Read more: Climate protection – here do the EU’s right-wing populists stand?
cw,rc/jlw (dpa, AFP)