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Finland election win for opposition Center Party gives millionaire leader Juha Sipila tricky coalition challenge

Millionaire IT businessman Juha Sipila has been given the first chance to form a new government following his Center Party's election win in Finland. Coalition options are complicated.

Ahead of finally calculated results, Sipila's Center Party was projected to win 49 seats in the 200-seat legislature, 14 more than in the 2011 elections, with 21.1 percent of the vote.

The nationalist, anti-eurozone bailout, Finns Party, who have never been in government, were projected to place second with 38 seats. Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb's conservative Nation Coalition Party slipped to third place with 37 seats, a drop of seven compared to 2011. The Social Democrats, headed by former finance minister Antti Rinne, won 34 seats.

Former coalition partners the Christian Democrats lost one seat, dropping to five while the minority Swedish People's Party kept nine seats. The Greens were set to gain five seats to finish on 15, while the Left Alliance lost two seats to finish with 12.

The results were projected

by public broadcaster YLE, based on an initial count of 99 per cent of the vote by the election unit at the Justice Ministry. Some 4.5 million people were eligible to vote and turnout was 70 per cent, slightly down on 2011.

"I think the voters have sent a clear message that there is a change needed in Finland," Sipila said.

"The Finnish situation is very difficult," he commented while outlining a need for "a combination of cuts, reforms and growth" to turn around the economy and create new jobs.

Sipila has not indicated a preferred partner for his government and is to hold talks with Stubb's conservatives, as well as the Finns Party and the Social Democrats. He said he would talk with party leaders on Monday.

"The most important thing will be trust between the parties, then agenda issues," Sipila told broadcaster YLE.

The IT millionaire businessman Sipila has built a strong following in rural areas since he turned to politics four years ago. He is a member of the Lutheran revival movement "Word of Peace" which has allowed him to appeal to conservative rural voters.

The 53-year-old has also used his success in the telecoms sector, as chief executive and majority owner of mobile phone network component maker Solitra, to gain support from the urban middle class.

The Center Party led the Finnish government from 2007-2011 but was beaten in elections following allegations of suspicious funding arrangements by some party members.

Policy changes

After his election win, Sipila did not announce any proposed change for Finland's stance on eurozone bailouts. When in opposition, the Center Party had voted against the EU bailouts of Greece, Spain and Cyprus. He said: "we have consensus, there will be no change I will say."

But Sipila has said he is open to including the Finns party in a coalition. The Finns oppose bailouts and want to eject Greece from the eurozone.

Sipila's Center Party has also supported the outgoing government's policy on European Union sanctions against its neighbor Russia for its annexation of the Crimea and role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Finland has retained a position of neutrality and a

cautious relationship with NATO.

The Center Party includes some vocal EU critics as well as promoters of warmer relation with Russia with whom the country shares a 1,340 kilometer (833 miles) border. Political and economic uncertainty in Russia are ongoing topics of policy discussion.

Sipila's focus looks likely to center on the economy. He has proposed a new 1.5 billion euro state fund to invest in start-ups. There have been three years of recession in Finland, rising unemployment, an aging population and high wage costs.

Last year, the rating agency Standard & Poor's cut the country's rating to AA+. Finlands's debt and deficit levels are projected to exceed eurozone limits this year.

Outgoing premier Stubb complained of a "lost decade" under eurozone monetary union. Finland has been a member of the European Union since 1995.

jm/jil (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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