Voting begins in Finland's 'anti-austerity election'

Remigio Civitarese
Aprile 15, 2019

Finland's leftwing Social Democrats won a parliamentary election by a slight margin with 18.9% of votes, partial results showed, amid mounting concern among voters over the future of the country's expensive welfare system.

Polls show the Finns Party ending up in second or third place, meaning it could hold significant influence in the talks to form the next government, which in Finland is typically a coalition of three or four parties.

Meanwhile the Finns Party, which won 39 seats, had focused nearly entirely on an anti-immigration agenda under the leadership of hardline MEP Jussi Halla-aho, who also decried the "climate hysteria" of the other parties.

Party Secretary Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo and Chairman of The Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho attend The Finns Party parliamentary election party. This could make negotiations to form a governing coalition particularly hard, not least because the major parties have all expressed strong reservations about joining a government with the Finns Party, whose policies took a lurch to the right after Halla-aho became leader in 2017.

"Some of the questions will be about values", Rinne told Finnish media. "SDP is the prime minister party", Rinne said.

Petteri Orpo, leader of the conservative National Coalition Party and co-architect of the government´s savings programme, has denounced the Social Democratic Party´s anti-austerity plans as "irresponsible".

Rinne could also choose to form a coalition with the conservative National Coalition party, which came in third with 38 seats.

In Sweden, Stefan Löfven, the prime minister, has clung to power after his Social Democrats suffered their worst parliamentary election result in more than a century last autumn, enlisting the support of two liberal parties with a pledge to enact some rightwing policies. "We have already done our part", he said.

Chairman of The Centre Party Juha Sipil' hugs his wife Minna-Maaria Sipil' during The Centre Party parliament election party in Helsinki, Finland on Sunday, April 14, 2019.

However, cuts to Finland´s prized education system, and a tightening of unemployment benefit criteria, provoked loud and widespread public opposition.

The heated debate in the run-up to the vote led some analysts to predict that turnout will be high.

However, in a tacit acknowledgement that the public mood is against further belt-tightening, Orpo has insisted the economy is now strong enough to allow for some more generous public spending.

Populist surge However, opinion polls suggest the social democrats' lead has narrowed in recent weeks to as little as two points ahead of the National Coalition and the Finns Party, which are neck-and-neck in second place.

Some have blamed the shrinking lead on the inability of party leader Antti Rinne, a 56-year-old former trade union boss, to attract large numbers of new, younger voters.

The growing Finns Party ratings, on the other hand, appeared to be driven by new supporters who have not voted in the past.

The hardline faction, led by Halla-aho, went into opposition in 2017, and the party took a further lurch to the right.

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