After the tightest election in over half a century, Finland looks set to get a more left-leaning government as voters rejected years of austerity.
Former trade unionist Antti Rinne is poised to become Finland’s first Social Democrat prime minister in 16 years, winning by fewer than 7,000 votes. But he faces a tough set of coalition talks, after the ultra nationalist Finns Party emerged as the second biggest, beating the establishment conservative National Coalition for the first time.
The Center Party of outgoing prime minister, Juha Sipila, suffered a bitter defeat as voters punished his tough labour-market policies and failed healthcare reform.
“The top three are so close to each other that it’s going to make government talks quite difficult,” said Laura Nordstrom, a researcher at the University of Helsinki.
“This was clearly a protest vote, the opposition gained lots of votes and the Finns Party can be interpreted as a protest.’’
A recount in the Satakunta region could still sway the result: 102 more votes for a Center Party candidate would deny a seat to the Social Democrats, evening out the numbers to 39 each for Rinne’s group and the Finns Party, Iltalehti reported. The final confirmed results are expected on Wednesday.
The 56-year-old Rinne has promised to end four years of policies that included wage cuts and longer working hours.
Sipila, who had resorted to those measures in an effort to drag the euro zone’s northernmost economy out of a deep recession, suffered a fatal blow to his popularity earlier this year when he failed to pass a vital package of bills needed to reform healthcare.
“In contrast to the Sipila government, we can’t accept policies that force people who are worse off to pay for stabilising government finances,” Rinne said.
“We want to also spend money when necessary to stabilise finances,” he said.
Meanwhile the Finns, which campaigned on an anti-immigrant and euro-skeptic platform, are now firmly planted in the mainstream of Finnish politics.