Finland’s conservative leader Petteri Orpo, of the National Coalition Party, has emerged the victor after narrowly securing the biggest mandate in last night’s tight three-way election race. The 53-year-old Orpo, described as a “sort of dream son-in-law” by one commentator, beat Sanna Marin, Finland’s party-loving PM, in a close nail-biting election which turned out to be a big win for Finland’s right.

In contrast to Marin’s rock-star status, Orpo – a moderate from the liberal centre of his party – is arguably a little dull but has been praised for his campaign which has focused on the country’s economic woes. Finland’s mounting public debt has been a key issue during the election campaign – as has the challenge an ageing population poses to the future financing of the country’s welfare state.

For weeks, three parties – Orpo’s conservatives, Marin’s centre-left Social Democrats and RIikka Purra’s right-wing populists – have been neck and neck in the polls.

But, in the end, Orpo prevailed, securing 20.8% of the vote while Purra’s Finns party won a record 20.1% and Marin’s Social Democrats trailed just behind them both with 19.9% of the vote. Marin has conceded and congratulated both parties.

Now 37, Marin became the world’s youngest leader when she was sworn in in 2019, was famed for heading a coalition of five parties, all led by women. She was widely praised for her handling of the pandemic and, more recently, for steering her country towards imminent NATO membership (its due to join the alliance on Tuesday), although all the mainstream parties also backed this policy.

But Orpo, and other critics, have been quick to criticise her government’s level of public spending and has promised lower spending and tax cuts.  However, Marin insists the pandemic and war in Ukraine gave her little alternative, many on the right have criticised her level of public spending. Clearly, voters were ready to listen to Orpo.Marin has also been mired in the odd controversy. Most famously, for enjoying a night out on the town a little too much. That said, many rushed to her defence after videos emerged of her dancing into the late hours in a Finnish nightclub, and branded any resulting criticism as “sexist”.

It’s now for Orpo, a career politician since the 1990s, to form a government and become PM. He needs to get support from more than 100 seats in the 200-seat parliament to run the country so expect days of wheeling-dealing with the other main parties.  His National Coalition Party arguably shares more common ground with the Social Democrats than it does with its right-wing competitors.

Orpo has two choices: form a right-wing coalition with the Finns Party or reach an agreement with Marin’s Social Democrats.

While the Nationalist Finns have long had the strategic goal of leaving the European Union, Orpo is pro-EU. Additionally, both Marin and Orpo agree that getting more people in from abroad to work will be key to fixing labour shortages and preserving Finland’s welfare society. The Finns, meanwhile, are more reluctant to see more immigration as a solution.

Cooperating with the Finns isn’t necessarily the most natural choice. But given that Marin belongs to her own party’s left wing, it’s unclear if she’d be willing to team up with the conservatives. Her dancing days may not yet be over. 

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