Finland’s centre-left Social Democratic Party is facing the tough task of trying to form a government coalition after becoming the country’s largest party by a narrow margin.
With all votes counted after the country’s parliamentary election, the party led by Antti Rinne took 17.7% of votes and 40 seats in the Eduskunta legislature, far from the 101 seats needed for a majority.
Right behind came the populist Finns Party with 17.5%, while the conservative National Coalition party took the third spot with 17% of votes. Outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party was fourth with 13.8 %.
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.
The Finns Party came within 6,800 votes of winning the election – a result that smashed even its own predictions.
One newspaper headline read “An all-time election thriller.”
The result of Sunday’s vote has the potential to upend politics in Finland, a European Union member of 5.5 million people that shares a long border with Russia and has one-third of its land above the Arctic Circle.
It also highlighted the struggle by Europe’s traditional political parties to retain supporters. For decades, the centrist Centre Party, the conservative National Coalition Party and the left-leaning Social Democrats have dominated Finnish politics. This time, they jointly received 49% support among voters, a historically low figure.
The top three parties in the election are separated by only two seats in the country’s 200-seat parliament, which could make negotiations over forming Finland’s next coalition government difficult.
Markku Jokisipila, a professor at the University of Turku’s Centre for Parliamentary Studies, said: “This was the first time in 20 years that the Social Democratic Party is number one, but because the big three parties are so close to each other, it will be a difficult starting point for forming a government.”
Immigration is still an important rallying cry for the Finns Party but focusing on anxieties over how much it will cost to fight climate change appeared to produce an electoral bonanza.
“It’s better than expected,” said Finns Party supporter Riikka Purra. “Of course, we knew it would be nice, but this is awesome!”
Greenpeace Finland called Sunday’s vote the “climate election”, saying “never before has climate and the limits of planet Earth been discussed with such seriousness in Finland”.
Jussi Halla-aho, the leader of the Finns Party, said he wanted “a more moderate and sensible climate policy” that would not chase companies and industries away from Finland to countries like China.
With the exception of the Finns Party, all other main parties agreed to the IPCC report last year on the suggested global response and the impacts of global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.