Climate change, social care are top issues in Finnish vote

15 Avril, 2019, 06:36 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau

While the centre-right National Coalition of outgoing Finance Minister Petteri Orpo came in second, with 17.2 percent of the advance ballots.

The current government's cuts to Finland's prized education system, and a tightening of unemployment benefit criteria, had provoked loud and widespread public opposition.

They will head a government for the first time in 16 years, though it has been a junior coalition member since then. "Of course, the parties from the last government are going to suffer because of that now", she told AFP.

The success of the Social Democrats would mark a departure for Finland and the region, where leftwing parties have struggled in recent years, yielding some of their hold on the working class vote as nationalist parties have emerged.

However, in a tacit acknowledgement that the public mood has turned against further belt-tightening, Orpo has insisted the economy is now strong enough to allow for some more generous public spending.

A record 1.5 million Finns, over a third of the electorate, had already cast their ballots during a week of advance voting earlier this month.

The center-left Social Democratic Party tops a recent poll with 19% support.

Opinion polls had suggested the Social Democrats' lead was narrowing towards the end of their campaign, with some blaming Rinne's inability to attract large numbers of new, younger voters.

The Finns Party has run a vocal campaign calling for asylum-based immigration to be reduced to nearly zero, and decrying the "climate hysteria" of other parties seeking action against global warming.

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Chairman of the Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho, front right, campaigns for the Finnish parliamentary elections in Tuusula, Finland, Saturday, April 13, 2019, a day ahead of the elections.

"You will be the next prime minister", one woman assured him.

The Finns party's stance on environmental policies, which includes an opposition to a proposed tax on meat consumption, appeals to rural voters in particular who fear soaring fuel costs and resent any efforts to change what they see as the traditional Finnish way of life.

This could make the negotiations to build a government coalition particularly tricky.

During the campaign, most parties expressed strong reservations about sharing a government platform with Halla-aho's party, while stopping short of ruling it out entirely.

Finland has a rapidly ageing population and declining birth rate, and the question of how to keep funding the country´s generous welfare state has been a key election battleground.

However, the two parties have repeatedly clashed over the conservatives' austerity policies during the last four years. Immigration became a hot election topic despite Finland being western Europe's most homogenous country with a foreign-born population of just 6.6 percent.

In January, outrage over highly publicised reports of an alleged string of sexual assaults by immigrant men boosted support for the Finns Party´s anti-immigration agenda. Polls close at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) with all votes expected to be counted by midnight.

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