Elections in Finland, challenge between women: Sanna Marin in the balance

The country will vote tomorrow. The Finnish premier is undermined by the rise of Rikka Purra, the new leader of the far right

Well known abroad, popular at home, the Finnish premier Sanna Marin is however in the balance in tomorrow’s elections, Sunday 2 April 2023, in Finland. Becoming the youngest prime minister in the world at 34 in 2019, the social democrat Marin successfully led her country through the serious crises of Covid and the war in Ukraine, leading Helsinki to the next entry into NATO. But she is now threatened by the rise of another female politician, Rikka Purra, the new leader of the far-right populist Finns party. And observers are wondering if Finland will not radically change its government.

The latest polls indicate Marin’s social democratic party third with 18.7% in a head-to-head with the National Coalition conservatives (19.8%) led by Petteri Orpo and the Finns (19.5%). These figures are too close to indicate a clear winner, but the Finnish far right is on an upward trend, led by 45-year-old Rikka Purra, a skilled communicator who is very popular on TikTok.

The electoral outcome is therefore uncertain, especially since any future government will be the result of a coalition. Already now Marin leads an executive of five parties, which made history in 2019 because the leaders were all young women. If the National Coalition and the Finns come out on top, they can try to form a right-wing government together with other small parties. If instead the Social Democrats are first, Marin may not be able to form a left-wing coalition. In this case, a broad government could be formed, including the National Coalition.

The paradox is that Marin continues to obtain a high approval rating among the Finns, higher than that of his party, which in any case is indicated in the polls as well as 17.7% in the last elections. The scandal of the video in which she let loose at a party hasn’t affected the popularity of the young prime minister. And for years this small country of 5.5 million inhabitants has not had a leader so well known and appreciated abroad.

But the good management of the Covid crisis is behind us. While entry into the Atlantic Alliance – by now ensured by the ratification of Turkey and Hungary as well – is not an electoral issue, because the Russian invasion of Ukraine has radically changed Finnish public opinion, now overwhelmingly in favor of joining to NATO and the construction, which has already begun, of a barrier along the border with Russia.

At the center of the electoral debate is the high budget deficit, with Orpo campaigning by proposing austerity measures and tax cuts. While Purra insisted on the issue of immigration and the environment, accusing the government of elitist policies that harm ordinary people. According to the leader of the Finns, the goal of carbon neutrality in 2035 should be postponed until 2050.

The word now passes to the voters who tomorrow will have to choose the 200 deputies of the Eduskunta, the Helsinki parliament. With polls showing no party above 20%, it is likely it will take some time to form a coalition. Already in 2019, the Social Democrats, Finns and the National Coalition had gone head-to-head, obtaining 40, 39 and 38 deputies respectively. Antti Rinne of the Center party had then become prime minister. But it only lasted six months, overwhelmed by an internal upheaval within his party. And Sanna Marin, who had just conquered the Social Democratic leadership, became prime minister.