Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin attends a joint news conference on Finland’s security policy decisions at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, May 15, 2022.
Heikki Saukkomaa | Lehtikuva | Reuters
Finland’s right-wing opposition National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo on Sunday claimed victory in the Nordic country’s tightly fought parliamentary election.
“We got the biggest mandate,” Orpo said in a speech to followers.
With 93.4% of the votes counted, his party looked set to get the most seats in parliament, 48 out of 200 in total, and with 20.5% support among votes cast, justice ministry election data showed.
The leader of the largest group in parliament gets the first chance at forming a coalition to obtain a majority, meaning Marin’s time as prime minister could be about to come to an end.
Marin, 37, the world’s youngest prime minister when she took office in 2019, is considered by fans around the globe as a millennial role model for progressive new leaders, but at home she has faced criticism for her partying and her government’s public spending.
The NCP has led in polls for almost two years although its lead had melted away in recent months. It has promised to curb spending and stop the rise of public debt, which has reached just over 70% of GDP since Marin took office in 2019.
Orpo accused Marin of eroding Finland’s economic resilience at a time when Europe’s energy crisis, driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine, has hit the country hard and the cost of living has increased.
Orpo has said he will negotiate with all groups to obtain a majority in parliament, while Marin has said her Social Democrats may govern with the NCP but will not go into government with the Finns Party.
Marin called the Finns Party “openly racist” during a debate in January — an accusation the nationalist group rejected.
The Finns Party’s main goal is to reduce what leader Riikka Purra has called “harmful” immigration from developing countries outside the European Union. It also calls for austerity policies to curb deficit spending, a stance it shares with the NCP.
The next government will see the early days of Finland’s membership of NATO.
Most notable of Marin’s foreign policy actions since she took office in 2019 has been her push, along with President Sauli Niinisto, for the country to make a watershed policy U-turn by seeking membership of the Western defense alliance in the wake of security concerns after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That process is now almost complete, with Helsinki expected to join within days.
Some 1.7 million people or 40.5% of eligible voters already cast their ballot during the week-long early voting period that ended on Tuesday, Justice Ministry data showed.
Marin’s Social Democrats believe economic growth will help rein in the rise in public debt and that if the coffers need balancing, prefer to contemplate raising taxes over spending cuts.
However, that growth is not imminent. The economy in Finland, a country of 5.5 million, survived the pandemic better than those of most European countries, but growth slowed to 1.9% last year and the country is expected to tip into a mild recession this year, while inflation peaked at 9.1% in December.