Politics, World, Europe

Finnish Premier Sanna Marin fights for survival as 2nd term in doubt

Finland's right-wing opposition party leads in poll ahead of Sunday elections

Leila Nezirevic  | 01.04.2023 - Update : 01.04.2023
Finnish Premier Sanna Marin fights for survival as 2nd term in doubt


Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s hope of securing a second term is in doubt amid a rise in support for far-right parties and the opposition conservative National Coalition Party that holds a narrow lead ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, according to the latest opinion polls.

Marin came to power in December 2019 with her left-wing Social Democratic Party (SDP), however polls suggest that she is in a second place with just below 19% in a final pre-election poll.

Her rival center-right National Coalition Party is currently leading at over 20%, while Riikka Purra’s far-right Finns Party is running neck and neck with Marin's center-left.

The opinion poll results, however, are still too close to call.

The 37-year-old has led her nation through the COVID-19 pandemic earning praise at home and internationally.

But she will also go down in history as the prime minister who launched NATO membership application in spring 2022 when Finnish public opinion changed in favor of joining the military alliance after the Russia-Ukraine war started in February last year.

Still popular, but trust in Marin 'going down'

Marin, who became the world's youngest prime minister at just 34, is still a popular leader as in this year’s elections she continues to perform better than her own party in the opinion polls, but also when measured against other individual party leaders.

Internationally, Marin has become Finland's best-known figure as a modern feminist leader of a coalition government that is made up of five parties, each led by a woman.

Last year, she was heavily criticized when a video of her dancing with friends, influencers, and a Finnish pop star was leaked on social media.

Henri Vanhanen, who was until very recently the foreign policy adviser to Finland's National Coalition Party, told Anadolu that the prime minister is still among the most trusted political leaders in Finland but that the trust in her has been “going down.”

According to Vanhanen, the young leader lost popularity due to a backlash from the opposition parties and the president after Marin considered to potentially send Hornet fighter jets to Ukraine to help fight against Russia.

“This is something that has been revolving around for quite some time now and has had a negative impact on Marin,” he added.

Economy dominating campaign

In the last election, issues like immigration, environment, and equality were at the forefront, however this year’s campaign was mainly focused on economy amid recession and soaring consumer price inflation.

The Social Democratic Party led by Marin entered the elections with a slightly more leftist electoral program talking about not making any spending cuts and increasing employment, while opposing center right wing parties are pushing for budget discipline to avoid putting the country further into debt.

The populist right-wing Finns Party is sticking to its anti-immigrant agenda and its conservative approach, similar in some respect to traditional center right when it comes to social issues and economic policy.

Issues like migrant workers might become a major one in the post-electoral negotiation in Finland, Teivo Teivainen, a professor of world politics at the University of Helsinki, told Anadolu.

According to Teivainen, it is crucial to find a common ground after the elections, as parties will need to form a coalition to rule the country.

Finland is an aging country, where working population is declining, so the “center-right party and most parties all agree on Finland needing migrant workers for health care and for elderly care,” for instance, he said.

These all show that “the center right will try and form a coalition with the far-right Finns Party,” which spells difficulties as they are unlikely to accept to bow down to more friendly migrant proposals, Teivainen added.

Meanwhile, Vanhanen said: “We're going to have challenging government negotiations,” but will also “have consistency in foreign and security policy," adding: “I think there's a wide consensus in Finland that Russia is a security threat, and this means that everybody is in favor of NATO membership."

In a country that shares the EU's longest land border with Russia -- 1,300 km (810 mi) -- “everyone is in favor of increasing defense spending,” and for that reason the majority is advocating for “increasing and maintaining support for Ukraine, both militarily and economically and (in) humanitarian (ways),” noted Vanhanen, who is also a research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

The Sunday's election results are expected by midnight Helsinki time (2100GMT), however that is when tough negations are likely to commence.

Some polls suggest that the Finns Party could win up to 49 seats, ahead of the Social Democrats, who are in second place.

If that turns out to be the case, then, for the first time in its history, Finland could be led by a far-right government that is likely to be formed with Finns Party, National Coalition Party, Christian Democrats, and possibly the Liike Nyt (Movement Now) party.

“I wouldn't be so surprised if they (Finns Party) continue to grow right before the election. But let's see, it's too close to call, too close to say who is the winner,” Teivainen said, emphasizing that post-electoral negotiations will be deciding on who gets to lead Finland in the next four years.

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