Finns Cast Ballots in Closely Contested Polls as PM Sanna Marin Struggles to Retain Power

Sun Apr 02 2023
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HELSINKI: Finns are casting votes in a closely contested parliamentary election on Sunday as left-wing Prime Minister Sanna Marin faces a tough battle to stay in power amid voter concern over the future of lavish public spending at a time of economic downturn.

Voting started at 9am (0600 GMT) and closes at 8pm, with partial results from early voting to be published shortly afterwards.

Around 1.7 million or 40.5% of eligible voters already cast their ballot during the week-long early polling period that ended on Tuesday, Justice Ministry data showed.

Opinion polls suggest Marin’s Social Democrats, the biggest party in the outgoing coalition government, running neck-and-neck with the right-wing National Coalition Party and the nationalist Finns Party, with all three seen winning around 18.7-19.8% of ballots.

Marin’s uphill battle to stay in power

Marin became the world’s youngest prime minister in 2019 at 34 and is seen by fans around the world as a millennial role model for progressive young leaders.

But in her home country, she has been the subject of strict criticism by some conservatives for her centre-left coalition’s debt-financed spending on pensions and education that they consider irresponsible.

“The right wing offers an alternative that makes life miserable for all of us, cuts services, cuts livelihoods for the poorest,” Marin told supporters on Saturday. “We have an opportunity to choose a better alternative.”

Marin says it is imperative for economic growth to spend on education and health services. Her opponents, National Coalition Party’s Petteri Orpo and the nationalist Finns Party’s Riikka Purra, are demanding fiscal austerity to restore government finances.

The National Coalition has promised to curb spending and halt the rising public debt, which has surged to just over 70% of GDP since Marin took office in 2019. The grouping alleges that Marin eroded Finland’s economic resilience at a time when it was suffering from Europe’s energy crisis.

Finland’s economy survived the Covid-19 pandemic better than those of most European countries but growth fell to 1.9% last year, with the country expected to face a mild recession in the coming months.

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