Finland’s centre-right opposition clinched victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, inflicting defeat on centre-left prime minister Sanna Marin.
The National Coalition party, led by Petteri Orpo, was poised to come first with 48 seats, followed by the eurosceptic populist Finns party on 46, both notching up strong gains, with 99 per cent of the vote counted.
Orpo said the results amounted to a “major victory” for the National Coalition and a “strong mandate for our politics”. He said he would start negotiations on forming a coalition. Orpo will need to assemble a bloc of at least 101 seats for a majority in the 200-seat parliament.
Marin’s Social Democratic party was on track to take 43 seats. Although the SDP’s expected tally is an improvement on the results of the last election in 2019, Marin’s Green and leftwing coalition partners suffered heavy losses.
Marin conceded defeat but celebrated her party’s gain of three seats. “Democracy has spoken and we have reason to be happy about this result,” she said.
Marin, 37, became Europe’s youngest leader when she took over as head of her party and prime minister in December 2019. She was credited with adroitly handling the pandemic and then steering her country into Nato following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But her conservative opponents’ capitalised on an electoral debate focused on public finances and government debt.
As the leader of the party ahead in terms of seat numbers, Orpo, 53, has the right to make a first attempt at forming a government.
Orpo has been a member of parliament since 2007 and took over as head of his party, also known as Kokoomus, after challenging his predecessor, former prime minister Alexander Stubb, for the leadership. He focused his campaign on the need for public spending cuts to reduce Finland’s debt-to-gross domestic product ratio of 73 per cent and make room for tax cuts.
Orpo has kept open his options for a coalition. He could join forces with Marin’s Social Democrats or team up with the Finns party for a more rightwing alliance.
The result was the best ever score for the Finns party, an anti-immigration populist group that is sceptical about EU integration. The Finns previously served in government alongside the Centre party from 2015 to 2019.
Although Orpo’s party had enjoyed a substantial poll lead since 2021, the election became a tight race, with the three leading parties all polling between 18.7 and 19.8 per cent.
With 99 per cent of votes counted, the National Coalition was on 20.8 per cent, the Finns party on 20 per cent and the SPD on 19.9 per cent.