What is the strongest message from the Finnish election result? | GME

Finland goes to polls as leftists tipped for next government

Finland goes to polls as leftists tipped for next government

Finland's leftist Social Democrats and the nationalist Finns Party emerged almost tied to win Sunday's general election, reflecting a mounting sense of insecurity in the Nordic nation over immigration, welfare and climate change. A strong result for the Finns Party could bolster a nationalist bloc threatening to shake up European Union policy-making.

If final results confirm the outcome, Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne could become Finland's first leftwing prime minister since 2003.

The Finns Party ultimately fell only 0.2 percentage points short of upsetting the pre-election favourite, after a late-blooming campaign helped the populist right-wing party win 17.5 per cent of the vote and 39 seats in the Parliament.

And the nationalist True Finns party came in fourth, with 15.1 percent of the vote.

"Finland isn't capable of saving the world", Finns Party chairman Jussi Halla-aho, 47, said at a recent news conference.

Finns Party leader Halla-aho has sought to dispel accusations that he hoped to keep his party in opposition after the election, so as to avoid facing the tough decisions of being in power.

The Finns Party's stance on environmental policies, which includes opposing a proposed tax on meat consumption, appeals to rural voters in particular who worry about soaring fuel costs and resent any efforts to change what they see as the traditional Finnish way of life.

Antti Rinne's close victory will make negotiations to form a governing coalition particularly hard, not least because the major parties have all expressed strong reservations about joining a government with the Finns Party, whose policies took a further lurch to the right after Halla-aho became leader in 2017. In recent months, Finland's far-right Finns Party - previously languishing in fifth place in opinion polls - has surged in popularity to become the second- or third-biggest party, according to recent forecasts.

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But after declaring victory on Sunday, Rinne did not rule out a collaboration, saying he "has questions" for the party.

Petteri Orpo, leader of the conservative National Coalition Party and co-architect of the government´s savings programme, has denounced the Social Democratic Party´s anti-austerity plans as "irresponsible".

The heated debate in the run-up to the vote led some analysts to predict that turnout will be high.

However, cuts to Finland´s prized education system, and a tightening of unemployment benefit criteria, provoked loud and widespread public opposition. "SDP is the prime minister's party", he told supporters in central Helsinki, Reuters reported.

Rinne has been a staunch opponent of the National Coalition's austerity policies over the past four years.

However, in a tacit acknowledgement that the public mood is against further belt-tightening, Orpo has insisted the economy is now strong enough to allow for some more generous public spending.

As required by Finnish law, election officials asked the first voter to confirm the ballot box was empty before it was locked and voting could begin.

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