Anti-austerity party holds off far right in Finland election

Chairman of the Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho right campaigns for the Finnish parliamentary elections in Tuusula Finland Saturday

Chairman of the Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho right campaigns for the Finnish parliamentary elections in Tuusula Finland Saturday

It more than doubled its presence in parliament, from 17 seats to 39, and regained all of the ground it lost when more than half of Finns Party MPs fled the party in 2017 on the election of hardline leader Jussi Halla-aho.

His Centre Party now languishes in fourth place in the polls, having recently been overtaken by the Finns Party.

The leader of Finland's center-left Social Democratic Party says he expects the rest of election night in a two-way contest with the conservative National Coalition Party. "SDP is the prime minister party", he said.

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In all, Finnish voters chose from nearly 2,500 candidates from 19 parties.

"Finland isn't capable of saving the world", Jussi Halla-aho, 47, said at one of the party's news conferences.

In Sweden, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has clung to power after his Social Democrats suffered their worst parliamentary election result in more than a century last autumn, enlisting the support of two liberal parties with a pledge to enact some right-wing policies.

In the parliament resulting from the 2015 legislative vote, the Center Party had held 49 seats after garnering more than 21 percent of the vote.

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The election followed a campaign in which concerns about climate change even overshadowed the issue of how to reform the nation's generous welfare model.

More than 1.5 million people - 34.5 per cent of the total - voted in advance of the parliamentary elections on Sunday under a system put in place in 1970 to encourage participation.

Finns began voting in a general election on Sunday where the centre-right government is expected to be overturned amid widespread opposition to its spending cuts, and the far-right is predicted to make large gains.

Unlike Finland's Social Democrats as well as populists in the south of Europe who resonate with voters angry over slow economic growth in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, the Finns call for fiscal restraint. "The future is a big question for us, all this climate changing, education systems reforming. all kind of things are very important" to Finland's people, he said.

Some of those proposals include boosting the number of electric vehicles, cutting meat consumption through taxes and switching to more vegetarian food in public places like schools.

Voter Sofia Frantsi, 27, an architect from Helsinki, told The Associated Press "for everybody, it's about the climate".

"It's clear a vast majority of Finns are hoping that the new parliament takes climate action", Emma Kari, a Greens lawmaker, told the AP as she campaigned on Saturday.

Rural voters and other residents who feel that the climate change plans of other leading parties require too much sacrifice have been part of the momentum of the populist Finns Party.

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