Finland may usher in its first leftist prime minister in two decades in parliamentary elections

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Finland may usher in its first leftist prime minister in two decades in parliamentary elections on Sunday, as voters worry over the future of their welfare system amid the rising costs of caring for a rapidly ageing population. A survey commissioned by public broadcaster Yle showed the Social Democrats could win the top spot with 19% of the vote, giving their leader, Antti Rinne, the first shot at forming a government. The Finns party is running close second with 16.3% support, after securing rapid gains since the start of the year when a series of cases of sexual abuse of children by foreign men emerged. They are trailed by the Centre Party and the Greens, who have strong urban support and back moves to fight climate change. The Social Democrats look set to take the majority, but would still need to try form a coalition government to overtake the outgoing centre-right coalition government, led by Prime Minister Juha Sipila of the Centre Party.

The 56-year-old former union leader is also promising to raise taxes to fund welfare and combat economic inequality, which he says has risen under the ruling centre-right coalition of prime minister Juha Sipilä. His talk of raising taxes is unlikely to drive off his supporters, many of whom value highly Finland’s welfare state. But he will likely struggle to form a functioning coalition, if the Finns party scores high and given finance minister Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition is likely to come third on Sunday. Orpo has called Rinne’s economic policies “irresponsible”. Rinne has ruled out forming a government with the nationalists led by Jussi Halla-aho, 47, an anti-immigration hardliner. With European parliamentary elections less than two months away, the Finnish ballot is being watched in Brussels. A strong result for the Finns party could bolster a nationalist bloc threatening to change EU policy-making. Just as the Social Democrats are benefiting from a growing sense of insecurity among Finland’s older and poorer voters, the Finns party argues that the nation has gone too far in addressing issues such as climate change and migration at its own expense.

Karina Jutila, chief researcher at think tank e2, said: “We are going through a cultural shock in Finland. Part of the population is in a kind of state of shock amid all the change going on, and as a result they take the Finns party’s hand.” Public broadcaster Yle will give its first estimate of the results, based on advance votes which account for 36.1% of the electorate this year, shortly after voting ends.

Altogether 19 parties are running in the election, with eight of them holding seats in the parliament now, ranging from the environmentalist Green party polled at 12.2% to the Feminist party founded two years ago.

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