Petteri Orpo defeats Sanna Marin in Finland election. Now what?

Petteri Orpo defeats Sanna Marin in Finland election. Now what?
Опубликовано: Monday, 03 April 2023 11:27

Center-right leader faces tricky path to build governing coalition.

Finland’s Petteri Orpo, the leader of the center-right National Coalition Party, is set to launch tricky negotiations with potential partners on the right and left on Monday after his party’s narrow election win over Social Democrat incumbent premier Sanna Marin.

The National Coalition Party (NCP) secured 48 of 200 parliamentary seats versus 43 for the Social Democrats, with the anti-immigration Finns Party securing second place with 46 seats.

Marin’s former junior partners the Center Party, the Greens and Left Alliance all lost seats, while the Swedish People’s Party held steady.

Orpo must now decide with whom to team up as the basis for a majority coalition — although all options entail a challenge.

For a potential tie-up with the Social Democrats, a compromise would have to be met between the two sides’ sharply different strategies on economic policy. The NCP campaigned on cuts to welfare in order to balance the budget, while the Social Democrats suggested taxing higher earners and investing in employment support measures.

If Orpo turns to the Finns Party and its leader Riikka Purra, they are likely to face differences over immigration policy. The NCP believes Finland needs new arrivals to support the labor market while the Finns Party is pushing for less porous borders.

To secure a majority coalition, Orpo will also have to win over one or more smaller parties.

In comments to local media as the vote count ended Sunday, Orpo suggested that reversing a looming recession in Finland would become his focus — a possible sign that he will seek common ground with the Finns first.

“We are starting government negotiations with the economy as the core issue,” Orpo said.

Nor will Orpo have an easy time coalition-shopping among the smaller parties, which endured a difficult election night.

Orpo would need to convince the likes of Center Party leader Annika Saarikko that her party wouldn’t be better served in opposition, where it can reconnect with voters free of the necessary compromises of coalition government.

For the European left, waking up to the loss of Marin was a blow. As a high-profile Social Democrat, she earned widespread praise over the past four years for her handling of the pandemic and adept response to the Ukraine crisis, including Finland’s dramatic pivot toward NATO.

Finland will become NATO’s 31st member | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

But her ultimate failure to sell left-leaning economic policies to the Finnish electorate — for example, seeking growth through investment rather than cuts — will be noted in Europe. Swedish Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson failed to secure a second term in elections last fall, while Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen only won reelection in November after a series of sharp-right policy turns.

Speculation now swirls over Marin’s future and whether she will continue as leader of her party in Finland. Even before the election was settled, some colleagues in Finland were suggesting she could seek a new challenge at the European Commission, possibly even as the Left group’s candidate for president.

Already clear is that Orpo feels he has a mandate from voters to move Finland toward the right, capitalizing on a Finnish convention that offers the winning party the first chance to form a coalition — even if that lead consists of only two seats.

“This was a big win,” Orpo told supporters as the end of the vote count neared. “Our message has got through, the support is there, and Finns believe in the National Coalition Party.”

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