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Finland: Sanna Marin concedes, Orpo claims win in tight vote

April 3, 2023

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has conceded a narrow defeat to the center-right opposition in national elections. The vote came shortly before the country's NATO accession.

Chair of SDP Sanna Marin, left, and chair of The Finns party Riikka Purra, right, look on as National Coalition Party chair Petteri Orpo cheers at the Finnish parliamentary elections media reception at the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki, Finland on Sunday, April 2, 2023.
Marin congratulated Orpo late on Sunday, but the coalition picture is complex Image: Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP/picture alliance

Preliminary election results in Finland published in the early hours of Monday showed Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Social Democrats emerging as just the third-largest party, behind the center-right National Coalition Party and the right-wing Finns Party. 

The vote is spread thinly, however, and coalition permutations are complicated. 

With all the votes counted, the Social Democrats had 19.9% of the vote, behind the conservative NCP on 20.8% which won the tight race. The far-right Finns Party was in second place with 20.1%.

Center right in Finland wins parliamentary election: Denise Wall reports from Helsinki

NCP's Petteri Orpo claims victory

"You know what? This was a great victory," NCP leader Petteri Orpo told cheering supporters in the capital Helsinki on Sunday night.

The NCP is now in position to lead negotiations to form a government, and its choices on who to partner with will be decisive.

In theory it could quite easily ally with either the Social Democrats or The Finns, plus one or two more smaller parties — but it is at odds with both its rivals on a number of issues. 

"Based on this result, talks over forming a new government to Finland will be initiated under the leadership of the National Coalition Party," Orpo said.

Incumbent Marin concedes defeat

Marin was fighting for a second term in the job. In 2019, she became the world's youngest serving prime minister when she took office at age 34.

"Congratulations to the winner of the elections, congratulations to the National Coalition Party, congratulations to The Finns Party. Democracy has spoken," Marin told her supporters.

Marin tried to focus on the positives, noting that the Social Democrats had "gained support, we have gained more seats." "That's an excellent achievement, even if we did not finish first today," she said.

Out of 200 available seats in the Parliament, Marin's party won 43, compared to 40 in the election she narrowly won in 2019.

Although she remains one of Finland's more popular prime ministers, her government was bogged down by concerns about the country's economy — a sticking point in this year's election.

Finland's parliamentary election took place soon before the country's accession to the NATO alliance after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, having remained neutral throughout the Cold War.

While her stance on Russia had been seen as strong, conservatives attacked her for a partying scandal, saying she was unfit for office.

NCP focused on economy in campaign

NCP chair Orpo, who is 53, is likely going to become prime minister since his party finished first. The NCP had led in the polls for almost two years but slipped back towards parity with Marin's Social Democrats in recent months before appearing to secure a narrow advantage on Sunday. 

Orpo and the conservatives had blamed Marin for a weak economy, as Finland grapples with rising cost of living and an energy crisis driven by Russia's war in Ukraine.

The conservative party pledged in the campaign to curb spending and stop the rise of public debt, which has reached just over 70% of GDP since Marin took office.

Whether Orpo will talk to Finns or not next key question

Prior to the election, Orpo said he would not rule out negotiating with anybody prematurely, while Marin has said the Social Democrats would govern with the NCP but would take no part in any coalition involving The Finns, which she has accused of being "openly racist."

Riikka Purra, leader of The Finns said their main goal was to reduce "harmful" immigration from developing countries outside the European Union. The party has also called for austerity measures, a stance it shares with the NCP.

Smaller parties in Finland's broad base of contenders other than the NCP and the Social Democrats are likely to end up as part of any future coalition.

Among these, the three largest were the Centre Party of Finland, on 11.3%, the Greens, on 7%, and the socialist Left Alliance on 7.1%.

Correction from April 3, 2023: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Riikka Purra, the leader of The Finns party. We apologize for this error.

rm, jcg/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)