Finns don’t love Sanna Marin as much as you do

Finns don’t love Sanna Marin as much as you do
Опубликовано: Monday, 13 February 2023 18:36

Finland’s prime minister remains popular with voters, but her Social Democrats are trailing their main rival ahead of April 2 election.

TAMPERE, Finland — Sanna Marin, one of the European left’s brightest stars, has two months to save her job.

This month, the Finnish prime minister launched her Social Democrats’ election campaign ahead of an April 2 election with her party trailing the center-right National Coalition Party under challenger Petteri Orpo in opinion polls.

After a glitzy laser show and a performance by a drumming group, Marin took the stage vowing to invest in education, employment and welfare provision.

“We are not going to get public spending in balance, or maintain a healthy society through cuts,” she said. “That is the bitter medicine of the political right and it does not work.”

Since she took over as premier from misfiring predecessor Antti Rinne, Marin has emerged as a bright light on the European left at a time when it badly needs new energy.

German Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears increasingly embattled, while Sweden’s center-left leader Magdalena Andersson lost power at an election in September. Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen has remained in office only by swinging sharply to the right.

On the streets of Marin’s hometown of Tampere, an industrial hub in Finland’s southwest where she still sits on the city council, many voters said they thought highly of the prime minister.

Asked to review her performance, the word “competent” was often used, with her political style dubbed “direct” and “refreshing.”

In a central clothes store not unlike the one where Marin herself worked before entering politics, Ira Eklund, 19, said Marin had faced a “bumpy ride” as prime minister, managing both the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Marin’s rise from cashier to prime minister in just a few years had nevertheless been impressive, Eklund said.

“I think it is amazing that she had gone from standing where I am standing to leading the country,” she said. “It shows the kind of career change you can make if that is what you want to do.”

Still, Eklund and several other voters out shopping or on their way to work in Tampere also had concerns about the way Marin and the Social Democrats have run Finland, in particular the way they have overseen a rise in public debt.

Sanna Marin’s party is trailing the center-right National Coalition Party under challenger Petteri Orpo in opinion polls | Martti Kainulainen/AFP via Getty Images

The latest official data showed general government debt as a share of Finland’s economic output rose to 70.9 percent in the third quarter of 2022 from 68.7 percent in the same quarter of the previous year, and this rise has already proved to be a key campaign issue.

Opposition leader Orpo recently suggested that rising debt risked undermining Finnish welfare provision and said the country needed to “wake up to what government indifference to debt was leading to.”

In her campaign launch, Marin said closing “tax loopholes” would ensure the economy remained healthy. This could include higher taxes on capital and inheritance.

“A strong society can only be built on strong growth and high employment,” she said.

Opposition edge

Orpo’s party currently has the edge in opinion polls: His NCP has the support of 22 percent of voters with the Social Democrats and the far-right Finns Party both on 19 percent.

But experts aren’t ruling out a Social Democrat comeback over the weeks ahead with Marin — consistently rated in surveys as the most popular prime ministerial candidate —seen as an asset.

“I think it is fair to say she is lifting her party,” said Teivo Teivainen, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki. “The Social Democrats have traditionally had an image as a party for older voters but research suggests Marin has been able to attract more younger voters.”


All 3 Years 2 Years 1 Year 6 Months Kalman Smooth Kalman

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

For many Finns outside Tampere, their first sight of Marin was in a viral YouTube video of a feisty 2016 Tampere city council meeting showing her — as chair — confidently shutting down colleagues who were making overly long statements about transport policy.

She went on to become transport minister under Rinne, and when he resigned after a scandal in the postal service, she became Finland’s youngest leader at 34.

She has tried to portray herself as a firm and professional political operator willing to listen to allies and opponents, but who can also make the tough decisions.

“I don’t want conflict and I strive for compromise and joint solutions,” she told a documentary by Finnish national broadcaster Yle in 2021. “But if negotiations aren’t successful I can be decisive and decide what we should do.”

She declined an interview request for this article.

Social Democrats in Brussels are likely to be keeping an eye on the Finnish election. If Marin loses, she could be seen as an asset for an S&D group rattled by the Qatargate corruption scandal. Speculation has even swirled that she could be put forward as the group’s candidate for European Commission president.

Local star

Although born in Helsinki, Marin grew up in Tampere, attending a school in nearby Pirkkala before studying administrative science at the city’s university.

She is something of a star in Tampere, with a photo of her recently hung in a prominent spot in city hall.

Before a recent evening ice hockey match featuring local club Ilves, whom Marin supports, fans largely backed their hometown leader. The barista manning the coffee stand at the stadium said she felt Marin had got the big calls right, opting for an early and strict lockdown in the face of COVID and performing a rapid about-face to back joining NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The barista said she’d never seen Marin at an Ilves game, although the prime minister did post photos of herself at an international hockey match on social media last year. Her Instagram account, with a million followers, has long been a highly polished part of her public relations effort with shots of her at rock festivals and red carpet events regularly reaching a wide audience.

However, her online outreach appeared to misfire last year when fellow guests at a house party she had attended posted online what was clearly supposed to be a private video of her singing and dancing.

Sanna Marin celebrating a goal during an ice hockey match between Finland and Canada on May 29, 2022 | Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

Marin acknowledged Finns “didn’t want to see” such videos, but said they were part of a “joyful” life.

Experts said the video, which made headlines worldwide, had not radically altered her standing in Finland: Those who already supported Marin continued to back her, while those who opposed her also dug in.

In Tampere, shop assistant Eklund said Marin is still seen as something of a woman-of-the-people in the city, someone who lived a life very much like any other resident before taking what she’d learned to the center of power in Helsinki.

Eklund said she wasn’t sure which issues would affect her vote, or whether Marin had done enough to improve the lives of regular voters from Tampere.

“She definitely knows what it is like to be in our shoes,” Eklund said. “But could she have done more with that knowledge? Maybe.”

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