© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Finland’s Prime Minister, Chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Sanna Marin poses for a selfie during her election rally, ahead of the April 2 parliamentary elections in Vantaa, Finland March 31, 2023. Lehtikuva/ Vesa Moilanen via R
By Anne Kauranen and Essi Lehto
HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finns voted on Sunday in a hotly contested parliamentary election that could cost leftist Prime Minister Sanna Marin power, as voters worry about the future of generous public services amid an economic downturn .
With no party seen as holding a decisive lead, the election is likely to be followed by lengthy coalition talks, although whichever party wins on Sunday will have the first attempt to form a government.
Marin, 37, is seen by fans around the world as a millennial role model for new progressive leaders and remains hugely popular among many Finns, especially young moderates, but she has antagonized some conservatives with lavish spending on pensions and education they consider irresponsible. .
“The right offers an alternative that makes life miserable for all of us, cuts services, cuts off the livelihoods of the poorest,” Marin told supporters on Saturday. “We have the opportunity to choose a better alternative.”
Opinion polls show his Social Democrats, the largest party in the outgoing coalition government, in a stalemate with the right-wing National Coalition Party and the Nationalist Party of Finns, with the three winning around 18.7-19 .8% of the vote.
The National Coalition has led the polls for nearly two years, although its lead has dwindled in recent months. He promised to rein in spending and stop the rise in public debt, which has reached just over 70% of GDP since Marin took office in 2019.
The group accuses Marin of eroding Finland’s economic resilience at a time when Europe’s energy crisis, sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine, has hit the country hard and the cost of living has risen.
U-TURN OF THE WATERSHED
“Going into more debt cannot last for the next 30 years,” said Martti Haikio, 73, a history teacher. “It’s been 30 years – more debt, debt, debt – and good service, okay, but with borrowed money.”
The Finnish Party, too, is calling for austerity, but its main aim is to reduce what its leader Riikka Purra called “harmful” immigration from developing countries outside the European Union.
Voting starts at 9:00 a.m. (06:00 GMT) and ends at 8:00 p.m. The partial results of the early vote will be published shortly thereafter.
Some 1.7 million or 40.5% of eligible voters have already cast their ballots during the week-long early voting period that ended on Tuesday, according to Justice Department data.
Marin’s Social Democrats believe economic growth will help curb rising public debt and that if the coffers need to be rebalanced, they would rather consider raising taxes than cutting spending.
However, this growth is not imminent. The economy of Finland, a country of 5.5 million people, has weathered the pandemic better than those of most European countries, but growth slowed to 1.9% last year and the country is expected to tip into a mild recession this year, while inflation peaked at 9.1%. in December.
The most notable of Marin’s foreign policy actions was his pressure, along with President Sauli Niinisto, for the country to make a decisive political U-turn by applying for NATO membership following security concerns stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
That process is now nearly complete, and Helsinki is expected to join within days of the 30-member Western Defense Alliance approving membership.