Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin’s hope of securing a second term is in doubt amid a rise in support for conservative and far-right parties in advance of Sunday’s parliamentary election.
After a campaign dominated by immigration and security concerns surrounding Finland’s looming Nato accession, the centre-right opposition National Coalition Party (NCP) is leading the race with nearly 20 per cent support in a final pre-election poll – neck-and-neck with the right-wing populist Finns party.
Support for the 37-year-old Ms Marin, Europe’s youngest leader, and her Social Democrats (SDP) has dropped in final polls below 19 per cent.
In addition, slumps in support among her four coalition partners means the current administration – and its all-women leader line-up – is unlikely to be returned to power.
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Some polls indicate public support for a right/far-right coalition headed by the NCP leader Petteri Orpo and Finns leader Riikka Purra. Another popular option would be a left-right NCP-SDP alliance.
With 10 parties in the current parliament and no threshold for representation, it may be weeks before a government takes office in Helsinki’s 200-seat Eduskunta parliament.
Just 34 when she became prime minister in 2019, Ms Sarin attracted worldwide attention through her nightclubbing and leaked videos of parties in her official residence.
After weathering further and domestic scandals – over photo shoots, living expenses and legislation for the indigenous Sámi – a newspaper survey last December found that 64 per cent of Finns thought Ms Marin had done a “very good” or a “fairly good” job as prime minister.
Above all Ms Marin earned kudos for her steady political leadership through the Covid-19 pandemic and rapid response to the Ukraine crisis, applying to join Nato after a dramatic swing in popular support in Finland.
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Though Finland’s accession to the alliance is now seen as a certainty, unlike in neighbouring Sweden, war-related issues have dominated the campaign. While Ms Marin said she could imagine sending Ukraine decommissioned Finnish fighter jets, NCP leader Petteri Orpo warned her of making careless promises that “cannot be fulfilled”.
He has promised a more stringent approach to public finances, with cuts to housing benefits and business subsidies to fund old-age services.
“We want to increase the economy and boost economic growth,” said Mr Orpo, a nod to nearly flat economic forecasts for 2023 and inflation of seven per cent last year.
The Finns, formerly True Finns, have built support among younger voters on TikTok and other social media outlets with promises to reduce immigration from non-EU countries into the welfare system.
“We want to heavily reduce immigration that is harmful for our country,” said Ms Purra. “The kind of immigration policy that Denmark has pursued for a while already and that Sweden wants to implement now under its new right-wing government is quite close to what the Finns party wants to do in Finland.”
Ms Marin accused Ms Purra of being “openly racist” and has refused to govern with her, while Mr Orpo has said he will not rule out working with any party after Sunday.