Finland’s Election: What We Know

Does an international post await Finland’s outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin after her election loss? What explains the nationalist party’s record score? And are the nationalists reliable partners for a government coalition?  

Here is what we know after Finland’s general election on Sunday, which saw Marin ousted by Petteri Orpo of the center-right National Coalition Party.

Ambitious young leader

After basking in the spotlight of European politics, 37-year-old Marin failed to turn her exceptional popularity into enough seats in parliament for her Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The SDP fell to third place with 43 seats, behind the conservative National Coalition with 48 seats and the far-right with 46.

Traditionally the largest party inherits the prime minister post.

Speculation about Marin’s next step is rife.

One option could be a run for Finland’s presidency, with Sauli Niinisto scheduled to step down next year.

“It would be really interesting to see how she would do in a presidential election, because she is extremely popular, but also extremely disliked,” Marko Junkkari, a journalist at daily Helsingin Sanomat told AFP.

But it has been questioned whether the presidency, which is largely a ceremonial role in Finland, would match the young “rock star” politician’s ambitions.  

Marin continuing as a politician in Finland would be “a bit of a waste of experience and talent,” Karina Jutila, director of E2 research institute, told AFP.

With Finland set to join NATO on Tuesday, Marin could also be a contender to replace its outgoing chief Jens Stoltenberg in September.

But NATO diplomats deem it unlikely that such a recent member would take over the post.

Marin could also have her eyes set on a top EU job, with a new European Commission to be appointed in 2024.

Why did the nationalists surge?

For the second straight election, the anti-immigration Finns Party competed for first place, clinching a record 46 seats in the 200-seat parliament.

Founded in the mid-1990s, the party hardened its line in 2017 while in a centre-right government, which saw them thrown out of power.

“They have their finger very much on the pulse of the public. They can sense what the emerging concerns are,” Jutila said.

Consistently scoring well with voters, the Finns Party has proven that “it is by no means a bad dream from which we will wake up at some point,” political scientist Mikko Majander from think tank Magma explained.

The party has strong support specifically among working-class men and attracts the highest share of young voters.

It “stands out from other parties,” Rahkonen explained, “which is why it appeals to young people who do not have a strongly formed political identity of their own.”

While other parties see immigration as an answer to Finland’s ageing population, the Finns Party has campaigned for a hard line on immigration, blaming recent arrivals for rising juvenile delinquency.

Analysts are divided over whether the nationalist party, which sits in the European Parliament’s Identity and Democracy group along with French Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and Italian Matteo Salvini’s League party, can be considered far-right.

Both leaders congratulated the Finns Party after the elections.

“There is no far-right party in Finland,” future prime minister Orpo told foreign media on Sunday.

Are the populists reliable partners?

Orpo has two main options to form a majority government: A coalition across the political divide with the SDP, or a right-wing government with the Finns Party.

While the Finns Party is closer to the centrer-right when it comes to economics — the most important election issue for Orpo — allying with the far-right would make it harder to find other parties to build a majority.  

A “blue-red” government with SDP and the National Coalition — not uncommon in Finland — would be easier for smaller parties to join.

This would be the “most likely” coalition, according to Jutila.

In the current political climate, Finland needs “experienced decision-making and a composition that is used to working together.”

While SDP is a “tried and tested” partner, the Finns Party could be “unpredictable,” Majander said, noting that its voter base could have a hard time accepting budget austerity.

A blue-red government could also pose problems “from a democratic point of view, because the Finns Party has done really well in the elections,” Jutila said.

The SDP is ready to enter the government, but not with the Finns’ Party, Social Democrat deputy head Matias Makynen told local media on Monday.

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