FINLAND: Finns cast ballots in an election that is seen as a close contest between the centre-left of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, right-wing populists, and conservatives.
Finland may be days away from joining Nato, but the conflict in Ukraine has had little impact on the country’s political campaign, even though Finland has the longest border with Russia.
The election race has instead been about the economy and the Finns are making a significant choice regarding their nation’s future direction.
Polling starts at 9:00 (06:00 GMT) and closes at 20:00 (17:00 GMT), and the results of approximately 1.7 million advance ballots will be released shortly afterwards.
Right-wing politics pose the biggest challenge to Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats.
Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition Party, a conservative party, has high expectations of forming a coalition after four years of opposition, but this may also be the populist Finns Party’s best opportunity to lead an administration yet.
The world’s youngest prime minister, Marin, now 37, headed a coalition of five parties that were all led by women when she first entered the scene four years ago.
Even though she still has high poll numbers, she is a divisive personality who came under fire last summer when a video of her singing, dancing, and intoxicating herself at a party surfaced.
“She has a substantial following outside her party,” a professor of modern history at the University of Turku, Vesa Vares, says.
“Many of those who don’t like Social Democratic policies appreciate that she had to face the COVID and Ukraine crises and managed to deal with both,” he added.
The main issue of the campaign has been the public debt of Finland and how the nation’s cherished welfare state can be funded in the future.
Even though Sanna Marin argues that the government had to spend heavily in reaction to COVID and neighbouring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the right has attacked her for raising the public debt.
Matti Koivisto, a political correspondent for Finland’s public network YLE, says worrying about the public finances is a trait unique to the Finns. However, the country is dealing with a structural issue due to an ageing population and a lack of workers to finance it.
The labour shortage is most severe in the southern area of Uusimaa, where 30 percent of the population resides, and is particularly problematic in three of the largest cities: Espoo, Helsinki, and Vantaa.
“All the other parties say the only way to preserve Finland’s welfare society is to get people in from abroad to work,” Koivisto said, adding, “But the Finns are saying we should actually just cut the spending if that’s what’s needed.”
Since new leader Riikka Purra, 45, assumed office in 2021, the Finns have made an effort to stray from the far right. She pledges “no politics here” in her Instagram feed, which is full of wholesome pictures of wholesome food and shots of the countryside.
But beyond the plates of quinoa, kiwi, and blueberries, Purra stands out from the competition thanks to her party’s immigration policies.
The Finns have long had the strategic objective of leaving the European Union, but according to Koivisto, because of the conflict in Ukraine, they haven’t made a big deal of it during the current campaign. He claims that it is still a part of their scheme, though.
Regardless of which party comes out on top late Sunday, they will likely have the first chance to establish a government.
If it is the Finns, they will seek to cooperate with Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition Party (NCP) right away. Although Orpo hasn’t ruled out working with the populists, it’s not clear if the Finns could secure more than 100 seats to create a majority in the 200-seat legislature.
The 53-year-old leader of the Conservatives is aiming for personal triumph. This time, his party would be in a position to choose which party to cooperate with, says Prof. Vares, and is promising tax cuts and reduced government expenditure. He continues by saying that Orpo has taken care not to attack Marin in the manner in which she has targeted him.
Before Sunday’s vote, nearly 40% of voters submitted ballots, and by the end of the day, it should be obvious which party has won. A government’s formation, however, will take much longer.
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