Stockholm (Ekonamik) – The Social Democratic Party (SDP) narrowly won Finland’s general election on Sunday (April 14), attracting 17.7% of the vote in the first victory for the party since 1999. However, the party will find it hard to build a working coalition, with the vote closely split across the parties. The far right Finns Party won 17.5% of the vote, while the Centre Party of outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila won 13.8% and the Green and Left Alliance parties increased their share.
Mirroring neighbouring Sweden, most parties had ruled out a coalition with the Finns Party prior to the election, and the SDP only won one more seat (40) than it in the 200-seat Eduskunta (parliament). Still, it was a good showing for the Finns party, whose support had collapsed to below 10% mere months before the election due a split in the party. Immigration and climate change were its winning issues, with the party arguing that reversing climate change should be a global rather than national effort and promising to enforce stricter immigration rules amid fears related to immigrant violence against women.
The other main campaign issue was Finland’s welfare system. Prime Minister Sipila had made tackling Finland’s debt one of the main objectives of his government, a centre-right coalition in power since 2015, introducing austerity measures such as pension freezes and benefits cuts that were expected to save €3 billion over a decade. The move proved unpopular, the reforms failed to pass in parliament and the fall of the government bolstered the SDP, which instead campaigned to strengthen the welfare system. Finland’s population is ageing, putting pressure and increased costs on the system, which in turn requires higher taxation. Care for the elderly returned to the top of voter concerns just prior to the election amid reports of neglect in retirement homes.
An uptick in Finland’s economy therefore wasn’t enough to save Mr Sipila’s Centre Party. The Finnish Ministry of Finance had recently revised its growth forecast for 2019 to 1.7%, up from 1.5%, and to 1.4% up from 1.3% for 2020. Due to the expected global economic slowdown, the rate for 2021 is currently expected to be 1.2%. The key risks ahead are the deteriorating growth outlook in Europe, global trade conflicts, the recession in Italyand the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Finland’s economy is export-dependent on industrial equipment and investment products, and indications of declining industrial orders from Germany helped to create economic uncertainty ahead of the election despite the positive growth rates.
The Social Democrats will now have to cobble together a coalition of three or four parties, probably including the Green and Left Alliance parties and excluding the Finns Party. Lingering divisions over welfare reform and a divided parliament, however, suggest that coalition talks could be drawn out. Finland takes over the rotating EU presidency on July 1, indicating that SDP leader Antti Rinne will do whatever is in his power to avoid having to approach the Finns Party, not least because its sister euroskeptic parties are expected to make a strong showing in the European Parliament elections in May. The Finns party has already announced an alliance with Germany’s AfD, the Danish People’s Party and the Italian League party for those elections.
Image: 2019 Finnish parliamentary election ad signs in Helsinki (Wikimedia Commons)