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Finland elections kick off with austerity, climate in focus

17 April 2019

Finland's leftist Social Democrats and the nationalist Finns Party appeared tied to win Sunday's general election, with almost all votes counted, reflecting a mounting sense of insecurity in the Nordic nation over immigration and welfare.

But Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne, 56, a former union boss, was expected to have the first shot at forming a government, with most party leaders having ruled out cooperation with the populist Finns.

According to Reuters, this is the first time in a century that no party has won more than 20% in an election, and coalition talks are likely to be protracted. "SDP is the prime minister's party", Rinne told supporters and party members celebrating in central Helsinki. He may approach the National Coalition party, which won 38 seats.

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Some 36 percent of eligible voters have already cast their ballot in advance, choosing between 2,500 candidates from 19 political parties and movements for the Eduskunta legislature's 200 seats.

Around lunchtime the leaders of the main parties were seen casting their ballots in their constituencies: Halla-aho in Helsinki, Rinne in the town of Mantsala in the south, and Petteri Orpo in the southwest city of Turku.

After an election, the party that attracts the most votes typically tries to a new government with other parties as partners.

Pre-election debates over what and how much the Nordic country should do revealed disagreement among voters.

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The success of the Social Democrats would mark a departure for Finland and the region, where leftist parties have struggled in recent years, yielding some of their hold on the working class vote as nationalist parties have emerged.

While Mr Halla-aho said he would be interested in the post of interior minister, in charge of immigration, he was also upbeat in interviews at the prospect of being in opposition.

"I haven't closed out the (populist) Finns Party".

Tackling climate change and reforming Finland's social and health care system were key topics in the vote where established parties lost support to populists in line with an overall European trend. It's kind of a climate election.

"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.

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.

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.

Finland elections kick off with austerity, climate in focus