Finland’s election give Social Democrats a narrow victory over surging nationalist party

On Sunday, 72 percent of Finnish voters turned out to elect their new national government in the tightest race in over half a century. The left-wing Social Democrats were given a razor’s edge victory with 17.7 percent of the vote over the conservative nationalist Finns Party at 17.5 percent, leaving a separation of only 0.2 percentage points.

The Social Democrats received 40 seats compared to the Finns Party’s 39 in the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature. The conservative National Coalition Party received 37 seats and the Center Party, which was the senior coalition partner in the outgoing government, received 32 seats. Altogether there are nine parties represented in the parliament.

Former trade unionist Antti Rinne is now Finland’s first Social Democrat Prime Minister in 16 years, winning by less than 7,000 votes. The leader of Finland's progressive Social Democratic Party vowed to focus on climate and social policies and called on them to "take the Finnish society toward a sustainable climate, social and economic policies." Climate change dominated the campaign, even overshadowing topics like reforming the nation's generous welfare model.

Chairman of the Eurosceptic Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho received the most votes by a large margin of any candidate, leading the Finnish media to suggest Mr. Halla-aho could become a kingmaker in the next government. Mr. Halla-aho’s party ran an aggressive campaign, winning back support lost after the group splintered in 2017 as more moderate elements left. Its anti-immigration message resonated with voters as well as their characterization of the liberal elite’s obsession with climate change.

Center Party leader Juha Sipila tweeted Tuesday "the election result leaves me with no choices," referring to the party’s 13.8 percent result support, representing a loss of 18 parliamentary seats. Mr. Sipila will step down at a party congress on September 7. The Center Party is a major political establishment in Finland and Mr. Sipila has chaired it since 2012 and had been the Nordic country's Prime Minister since 2015. Mr. Sipila continued to lead a caretaker government after his three-party coalition resigned in March.

Mr. Rinne must now form a coalition government comprised of several partners before it can secure a parliamentary majority to govern. On Tuesday, the center-right National Coalition indicated that a deal on policy plans was possible. The Social Democrats have refused to consider and cooperate with the Finns Party.

During the election campaign, Mr. Rinne promised voters he would increase public spending, including a promise to increase all state pensions of less than 1,400 Euros a month, prompting National Coalition Chairman Petteri Orpo to call his economic policies “irresponsible”. However, Mr. Orpo, whose party pushed for spending cuts and austere budgets in the outgoing government, did not rule out supporting the spending increases, but said he wanted Finland’s economic performance to guide them, saying, “It’s possible for the National Coalition to participate in a government coalition if we can agree on a realistic understanding over the state of the national economy.

Mr. Rinne’s other coalition option, the Center Party, which came fourth with a record low vote share of 13.8 percent, became a less likely partner after the party’s leadership acknowledged voters had clearly not supported them enough for a government role.