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Finland facing likely rightward turn as ‘Rock Star PM’ loses election

Finland 2023 elections news

Although the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party – having edged out its competitors in a tight run – pledged that it was open to negotiating with all parties, the runners-up, the nationalist Finns Party, is the most likely candidate to form a ruling bloc, despite the differences of ideology.

Finland appears to be in for a change of power as the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party emerged as the victor of Sunday’s tightly contested parliamentary election.

Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition edged out both the nationalist Finns and the incumbent Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s ruling Social Democrats by a close margin, with the three parties being separated by less that one percent – 20.8, 20.1 and 19.9 respectively.

“Do you know what? It was a win,” Orpo told his cheering supporters, as quoted by Finnish media. He also said the election results were a sign that the Finnish people “want changes”, and he pledged to be open to negotiation with all parties.

However, as the smaller parties on Finland’s political horizon – the Centre Party, the Left Alliance and the Greens, which served as sidekicks to the Social Democrats during their stint in power – all suffered large losses after their participation in the current five-party coalition, Orpo is now faced with the prospect of forming a bloc with one of his major opponents.

Orpo ran on a platform of a new economic policy and a pledge to solve Finland’s problems with increasing national debt and to speed up economic growth. He is also in favor of reducing welfare and cutting subsidies. This would make an alliance with the Social Democrats very unlikely, given the parties’ wildly divergent views on state finances and the need for budget cuts. Instead of slimming down welfare, Marin’s party wants to increase taxes further. Even National Coalition activists themselves dismissed the possibility of forming a so-called “blue-red” government.

An unlikely coalition of arch-enemies was recently formed in Denmark, as the local Social Democrats teamed up with the liberal-conservative Venstre after a weak election showing and the newly formed Moderate Party – led by former Prime Minister (and long-time Venstre head) Lars Lokke Rasmussen – threw a spanner in the works.

However, all three parties suffered subsequent setbacks in the polls because voters considered the coalition a “betrayal”.

This makes the nationalist and populist Finns the preferred alternative for Orpo, which is not without difficulties of its own. The Finns Party is strongly anti-EU, to the point of having long had a goal of leading Finland out of the bloc, skeptical of measures against climate change and fiercely opposed to increasing immigration – a far cry from the National Coalition’s stance. Nevertheless, after the election victory, Orpo indicated he was ready to embrace the Finns Party as allies by discarding the “far-right” label commonly used by journalists, and claiming that he “doesn’t see” any such parties in Finland.

Incumbent Prime Minister Sanna Marin looks likely to lose her job despite the fact that the 37-year-old was frequently hailed as the nation’s most popular prime minister in the 2000s and was likened to a “rock star” because of her penchant for glamorous photo sessions and magazine cover appearances with fans flocking to take selfies with her. Marin also earned herself the nickname “party PM” as her name often made headlines in connection with parties and scandals allegedly involving drugs, which she vehemently denied.

However, her much-praised COVID-19 response with a protracted lockdown and a massive relief program saw Finland’s national debt balloon. The Social Democrats lost even though voter turn-out was higher than the previous election.

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