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Apr 2, 2023
Finland’s Voters May Unseat Sanna Marin in Tight Election
(Bloomberg) -- Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, is fighting to stay in power as voters head to polls on Sunday to decide on a nail-biter race.
The three biggest parties are neck-and-neck going into the parliamentary elections, with the latest surveys giving them roughly equal chances of prevailing. The winner — and the coalition they put together — will shape the trajectory of Finland’s public finances, the fate of its ambitious 2035 net zero goal and prospects to offset population aging with immigration into the cold, northernly nation.
Marin’s Social Democrats seek to stay in power with pledges to raise taxes and foster growth — means that the opposition National Coalition say are mutually exclusive. The center-right group wants instead to lower taxes and reduce spending with a goal of balancing the books sooner. Opposition ultra-nationalist Finns Party agrees on fiscal prudence, but rejects immigration and seeks to tone down climate ambitions.
What those clashing views mean for post-election coalition building is shrouded in mystery, complicating the choice for 4.3 million eligible voters in Finland, where set political blocs don’t exist.
Marin, who danced herself into international fame, steered the country through an unprecedented pandemic as head of a five-party cabinet led solely by women. The 37-year-old premier’s millennial personal lifestyle draws in young voters, and she is known for speaking strongly against Russia’s war in Ukraine, which led her nation to the fold of NATO in a total security-policy U-turn.
While Finns are in general proud of that global stardom — rare for a leader from such a small nation — what doesn’t sit easy with many is what they see as a careless attitude to spending and borrowing at a time of rising interest rates.
“People now have an opportunity to give a score card to the sitting government for the work that we have done, as four years ago none of us knew what difficulties we would face together and no one could say how these giant crises should be managed,” Marin said on a panel debate on Tuesday. “We’ve shown what we are made of.”
For Petteri Orpo, the head of National Coalition and a former finance minister, polls over the past year have been bittersweet reading with his five percentage-point lead over rivals slowly evaporating along with the near-certainty of premiership.
Should he prevail, that would mirror the shift in neighboring Sweden where a more inward-looking and fiscally conservative government, led by the Moderate Party, took power from the Social Democrats last year.
Still, a large part of the electorate is leaning toward the far-right Finns Party led by 45-year-old lawmaker Riikka Purra, which offers platform for voters concerned over internal security and immigration, and who think too much fuss is being made of climate change.
A staple on the Finnish political spectrum since 2011, a predecessor of the Finns Party had joined a coalition government in 2015 with only its more moderate elements holding cabinet seats and the extremists corralled off from power. When the party splintered in 2017, the more far-right faction was delegated into the opposition. The outcome of Sunday’s vote will test whether the euro-skeptic populists can replicate the success of their peers in neighboring Sweden and in Italy.
As a rule, the party with the most seats in parliament gets the first attempt to form a ruling coalition — and cabinets can even be formed by parties from opposite sides of the political spectrum if they manage to agree on a joint policy program. The talks can kick off after the election of a parliament speaker April 12 and are set to take weeks, if not months.
Among the few red lines disclosed ahead of the vote, many parties refuse to work with the nationalists, with Orpo’s National Coalition an exception. The Center Party of Finance Minister Annika Saarikko has ruled out extending the current coalition with Marin’s party for another term.
Finland’s upcoming membership in NATO is among the few issues that’s widely backed across the political spectrum.
--With assistance from Rob Dawson.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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