Published: Wed, April 17, 2019
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Social Democratic Party scrape through in Finland elections

Social Democratic Party scrape through in Finland elections

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who as head of state is not involved in government affairs except foreign policy, tweeted on Saturday that he has a "major timing problem" since the vote results clash with a USA-Finland women's ice hockey World Championship final match.

With 99.3 per cent of the ballots counted, the SDP, headed by former union leader Antti Rinne, obtained 17.7 per cent of the votes and 40 seats in Parliament, while the anti-immigration Finns Party, who are also in the opposition - obtained 17.5 per cent of the votes and 39 seats, Efe news reported.

Polls showed the Finns Party ending up in second or third place, meaning it could hold significant influence in the talks to form the next government, which in Finland is typically a coalition of three or four parties.

"I certainly could never have expected a result like this", an elated Halla-aho said.

"Other parties are being very cautious about their stand on immigration issues because they fear their support will bleed to the Finns Party".

Aware the public mood has turned against any further belt-tightening, the Centre Party of incumbent Prime Minister Juha Sipila and his centre-right governing partner the National Coalition Party, have insisted the economy is now strong enough to allow for an easing of austerity.

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.

Climate change: Most parties support efforts to combat climate change, but they differed during the campaign on how far to go and at what cost.

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.

"Finland isn't capable of saving the world", Jussi Halla-aho, 47, said at one of the party's news conferences.

"The Social Democrats winning the elections is a big win for Finnish democracy", Antti Rinne, the chairperson of the Social Democratic Party, was quoted as saying in his victory speech late on Sunday by Helsingin Sanomat.

Outside a polling station in central Helsinki on Sunday morning, a local resident who gave her name as Jenny said that she had only settled on who to vote for at the last minute.

Some 36% 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.

Yet the Social Democratic Party may face tough economic conditions in which to implement its anti-austerity promises: many economic forecasts suggest Finland's GDP growth will slow in the coming years.

"Rinne has been pretty clear that there are substantial ideological differences between the Social Democrats and the Finns Party".

Reform has been controversial in Finland and plans to cut costs and boost efficiency have stalled for years, leaving older voters anxious about the future.

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