Finland saw a tightly contested parliamentary election last Sunday, with the three strongest parties separated by only 0.9 percentage points. The conservative Rally Party led by Petteri Orpo emerged as the winner with 20.8 percent of the vote, an increase of 3.8 percent, and is expected to form the next government. The far-right True Finns party achieved its best-ever result, winning 20.1 percent of the vote and 46 seats, while the Social Democrats, led by head of government Sanna Marin came third with 19.9 percent of the vote and 43 seats in the parliament.
Despite coming in third place, the Social Democrats still gained 2.2 percent of the vote, while the other four coalition parties lost votes. The Greens, who had won double digits four years ago, suffered a major defeat, losing 4.5 percent of their vote share and achieving just 7 percent. They lost the most mandates in relative terms. The liberal Center party achieved its worst-ever result in its more than 100-year history with 11.3 percent, and the Left Party also slumped from 8.2 to 7.1 percent. The liberal Swedish People’s Party shrank from 4.5 to 4.3 percent.
Target photo decisions between the two or three largest parties are a tradition in Finland, with such situations arising in four of the last five elections since the turn of the century. Four years ago, the first- and third-place parties were separated by only 0.7 percent. In the current election, the Social Democrats and True Finns were separated by just 0.2 percent.
On election night, Rally Party leader Petteri Orpo spoke of a “great victory” and announced his intention to lead Finland back onto the “right path.” To form a parliamentary majority, he needs at least one more of the three strongest parties and one of the smaller ones. Minority governments are rare in Finland; the last one was in 1977.
One possible coalition could be a “blue-black” government consisting of the Rally Party and the True Finns, with the Center Party as a third partner. What would unite these parties is their intention to put the brakes on Finland’s national debt, which is rising faster than Nordic standards. There are differences on policy regarding foreigners and refugees. However, there could be a compromise given the True Finns’ qualifying statement that leaving the EU is not necessarily a “current goal.”
However, the previous cooperation between the Rally Party, the Center Party, and the True Finns between 2015 and 2019 was chaotic, with a split in the party and the parliamentary group of the True Finns. This could deter the Rally Party and the Center Party from forming a coalition with the True Finns. An alternative could be a “blue-red” government consisting of the National Coalition Party and the Social Democrats, along with one of the smaller parties such as the Greens and the Swedish People’s Party. Despite differences on future tax policy and the question of the national debt, an agreement on a government program seems plausible given the pragmatic nature of Finnish politics.
Petteri Orpo has demanded that the Social Democrats change their economic and tax policy ideas as a fundamental prerequisite for cooperation. On election night, he announced that he would initiate exploratory talks with the other parties on economic issues, suggesting that “blue-red” is only his second choice for the time being. However, it remains to be seen whether the Social Democrats will aim for a role as a junior partner or switch to the opposition benches. Sanna Marin’s initial comments after the election results became available did not indicate the party’s intentions.
Media speculation has already begun about a possible role for Sanna Marin in a “blue-red” coalition, with some suggesting she could serve as Foreign Minister. There is also talk that the 37-year-old could run to succeed Sauli Niinistö in the state presidential election next year.
One of the major issues that may become a sticking point in coalition negotiations is EU policy. The True Finns’ party program includes a proposal for Finland to leave the EU, which could be unacceptable to the other parties. However, party leader Riikka Purra has qualified this proposal by stating that leaving the EU is not necessarily a “current goal.”
Another area of potential disagreement could be labor migration. While the Rally Party and the True Finns have similar views on foreigner and refugee policy, they differ on how much Finland needs labor migration. This could prove to be a significant point of contention in coalition negotiations.
Overall, the results of the Finnish parliamentary elections have set the stage for potentially complex coalition negotiations. The Rally Party’s victory and the strong showing by the True Finns suggest that a “blue-black” coalition is possible. However, concerns about previous cooperation and policy differences may lead to alternative coalition scenarios. The Social Democrats’ gains and potential role as a junior partner or opposition party could also significantly shape the future government.