HELSINKI – The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) narrowly beat on Sunday the ultra-rightist Finns Party in Finland’s parliamentary elections.
With 99.3 percent of the ballots counted, the SDP, headed by former union leader Antti Rinne, obtained 17.7 percent of the votes and 40 seats in Parliament, while the anti-immigration Finns Party – who are also in the opposition – obtained 17.5 percent of the votes and 39 seats.
“For the first time since 1999, we are the largest party in Finland,” said Rinne, although the fine margin of the SDP’s victory means building a coalition could be difficult.
Thus, in a result that may be a harbinger for Europe-wide elections later this year, the nationalist Finns Party managed to garner more votes than the conservative governing National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) headed by Acting Finance Minister Petteri Orpo, which secured 17 percent of the votes and 38 seats.
The Center Party – which is also in the country’s governing coalition – headed by Prime Minister Juha Sipila, appears to be the big loser in the vote, obtaining 13.8 percent of the votes and 31 seats in Parliament, its worst showing in history. In the parliament resulting from the 2015 legislative vote, the Center Party had held 49 seats after garnering more than 21 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, the Green League is the party that gained the most support – after the SDP – capturing 11.5 percent of the votes and 20 parliamentary seats, five more than they obtained in 2015.
The Left Alliance also increased its support, garnering 8.2 percent of the votes, a result that allows them to increase the number of their seats in parliament by four to 16.
The other parties obtaining seats in the new 200-seat Eduskunta – Finland’s parliament – are the Swedish People’s Party with 4.5 percent of the votes and 9 seats and the Christian Democrats with 3.9 percent of the votes and 5 seats.
Blue Reform, a party that split off from the Finns Party, received 1 percent of the votes but did not manage to secure any seats in parliament.
The latest opinion polls had indicated that the Social Democrats stood an excellent chance of becoming the country’s largest party, thus securing the post of prime minister, although it was widely recognized that they would obtain less than 20 percent of the vote.
The leftist SDP has not held the post of prime minister since 2003. Among the party’s key policies are favoring work-related immigration to ensure that the labor force in Finland – whose population is aging – does not stagnate and allowing in a moderate number of refugees from afflicted countries on humanitarian grounds.
The Finnish government of Juha Sipila resigned in March citing a failure to achieve social welfare and healthcare reform goals.
The country’s president approved Sipila’s resignation but asked him to continue leading a caretaker government until a new cabinet could be appointed.
More than 1.5 million people – 34.5 percent of the total – voted in advance of the parliamentary elections under a system put in place in 1970 to encourage participation.
The Finnish parliamentary election was being closely watched in Europe and elsewhere because the European Union holds its own legislative elections in less than two months and a strong showing by the ultra-conservative anti-immigration parties could presage increased clout for such political forces in Europe as a whole.
Finland is slated to take over the rotating EU presidency from Romania in July.