Sanna Marin Party loses in Finnish elections

BRUSSELS — Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Social Democratic Party lost a tight election in Finland on Sunday to a center-right party focused on economic issues.

The National Coalition Party, led by Petteri Orpo, 53, won the most votes in the parliamentary election, followed by the far-right Finland and Social Democrats. But neither party came close to a majority on the 200-seat body, and Mr. Orpo will have the delicate task of unifying a governing coalition.

With almost 100 percent of the votes counted, Late Sunday night, Mr. Orpo has 48 seats with 20.8 percent of the vote, just ahead of Finnish populists, led by Riikka Purra, with 46 seats and 20.0 percent.

Although Miss Marin is the closest Finn to a political rock star, her centre-left Social Democrats came in third, with 43 seats and 19.9 percent of the vote.

The agrarian-based Center party, which has been shrinking, may become a key part of the new center-right coalition, winning 11.3 percent of the vote and 23 seats.

It was a narrow loss for Ms. Marin, 37. Despite his popularity, elections revive the economy, and Mr. Orpo was successful in arguing that Finland's debt was too high and public spending had to be cut.

Mr Orpo has the option of trying to join Finland or with the Social Democrats, but he still needs the support of another, smaller party to form a government. During the campaign, he was careful not to offend any of the major parties; Ms. Marin lambasted Finland as racist.

Mr Orpo is expected to have the first chance to form a new government and, possibly, become prime minister. But given the stiff competition, forming a new coalition government is expected to take weeks of negotiations between the parties, some of which have ruled out a coalition with Finland's Party.

Miss Marin has become a new face for a new generation, and is making a big impact outside of Finland, although she is more controversial inside. He scored well for his performances as prime minister, especially on issues such as the war in Ukraine and NATO membership, and was more popular in opinion polls than his party.

However, with Finland set to join NATO, the election turned largely to economic issues: the size of the nation's debt, the future viability of its social welfare system, and its policies on migration. There, Ms. Marin and his Social Democrats came under even more criticism and proved vulnerable.

“Democracy has spoken,” said Ms. Marin after the results were announced.

He said: “I believe that the Social Democratic message is being heard, and it is a values-based message. It's been a great campaign, and it's a great day because we did well. Congratulations to the National Coalition Party and the Finnish Party.”

Government spending is a major campaign issue.

With the economy contracting and inflation high, Ms. Marin accused him of borrowing too much and failing to control public spending. Ms. Marin, who became prime minister in 2019, declined to specify any cuts but instead emphasized economic growth, education, higher jobs and higher taxes as better answers.

The Finnish party is pushing an anti-elitist agenda, concentrating on limiting migration from outside the EU, criticizing Finland's contribution to the EU and urging a slower path to carbon neutrality. But her image has been toned down under Riikka Purra, 45, who takes the party leadership in 2021, and has used social media astutely, increasing her popularity among young voters.

In general, as in the recent elections in Italy and Sweden, the voting shows a shift to the right. Ms. Party Marin and two other parties from his current five-party coalition, the Greens and the Left Alliance, have ruled out going to government with Finland. The Center party has ruled out joining any coalition similar to the current one.

Personal life of Ms. Marin, including videos of him drinking and dancing with friends, made him famous abroad, but caused some controversy in socially conservative Finland. He even felt compelled to take a drug test to stave off criticism. But he remained immensely popular as prime minister late in his parliamentary term, said Jenni Karimaki, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki.

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Johanna Lemola from Helsinki, Finland.