Parliamentary elections in Finland: farewell to the ‘political rock star’?

Finland votes on Sunday and things are not looking good for Sanna Marin. One thing is certain: there will be no continuation for the coalition.

According to opinion polls, Sanna Marin is more popular than her party Photo: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/ap

STOCKHOLM taz | All five parties in the Finnish governing coalition have female leaders, four of whom are only in their early 30s. At 37, Sanna Marin is not only the youngest prime minister in Finland, but also the youngest in the world. In her cabinet, women lead 11 of the 18 ministries. When a centre-left coalition of Marin’s Social Democrats, the Left and the Greens, as well as the liberal Center Party and the Swedish People’s Party took over government affairs in Helsinki in December 2019, Finland’s “women’s government” also attracted international attention.

What is certain before the parliamentary elections on Sunday: there will be no continuation for this constellation. The Center Party no longer wants to be part of such a government. Depending on the election result, she wants to either turn to the right instead of to the left or take a seat on the opposition bench. The best prospects of having a nose in front on election night are given to the conservative party. And according to the country’s political tradition, it would then be its chairman, Petteri Orpo, who would lay claim to the post of head of government.

Thursday’s opinion polls saw the True Finns party at 19.5 percent, just three-tenths behind the Conservatives. The right-wing party has intensified its anti-refugee course, rejects labor immigration as a solution to Finland’s labor market problems, advocates leaving the EU and criticizes the country’s “overambitious climate goals”. It scores particularly well with men and in the group of first-time voters, where it scores 28 percent, more than twice as successful as the Social Democrats.

And why are the Social Democrats, with a predicted 18.7 percent, only in third place behind these two right-wing parties? It is true that Sanna Marin’s government did not keep some of its promises – also, but not only due to the corona virus, especially in the area of ​​social and climate policy. But economically, Finland is not doing so badly and the government is in the process of wrapping up what was particularly important to a large majority of Finns in recent months: membership in NATO.

Domestic political issues can influence the election

But there is broad agreement in Parliament on security policy. The analyzes show that it will therefore hardly play a role at the ballot box; domestic political issues are much more important to the voters. The sovereign debt issue has soared to the top in recent weeks. It has risen to over 71 percent of GDP.

Marin’s spontaneous solo efforts are problematic: she promised Ukraine fighter planes, which Finland actually needs

The relative public debt is thus at the top of all EU countries bordering the Baltic Sea and is more than twice as high as in Sweden or Denmark – the countries with which Finland is otherwise happy to be compared and whose debt level was also in movement up to 15 years ago. The government debt ratio is also well above the 57 percent target set by the Marin government itself. Corona and Ukraine are only part of the explanation for the increase, says Aki Kangasharju from the economic research institute ETLA, for example: The last governments simply lived beyond their means, under Marin the development intensified.

Opposition leader Orpo and his coalition party have successfully zeroed in on the debt issue. Marin’s government had the “delusion” that debt was irrelevant, but now the interest repayment would already correspond to the annual budget for Finland’s police force. Orpo promises more economical management, wants to get Finland back on the “right path” and is apparently collecting points.

Sanna Marin as a “political rock star”

According to opinion polls, Sanna Marin is more popular than the party she leads herself and is attracting voters who would otherwise not vote for social democracy: “She will be decisive for the outcome of her party,” says political scientist Göran Djupsund. But she is also something of a “political rock star” who polarizes, says Petri Korhonen, editor-in-chief of the social-democratic newspaper Demokraatti. For conservatives of the 50+ generation, “she is too young, too self-confident, too smooth definitely too popular on Instagram and internationally”. The consequences: “If you don’t like a certain genre that a star sings and acts in, you tend not to be a fan of that person either,” he said Demokraatti.

Marin’s spontaneous solo efforts are also problematic. Three weeks ago, during a visit to Ukraine, she promised Volodymyr Zelenskiy a possible delivery of fighter jets for the Finnish Air Force. Then she had to put up with the fact that the foreign and defense ministers, the army commander-in-chief and the state president publicly rebuked her: Not only had this never been discussed, it was also not possible. Because Finland needs every plane itself.

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