Europe (HRNW): The Social Democratic Party has won a narrow victory in Finland’s general election with 17.7% of the vote. But the far-right Finns Party was close behind on 17.5%, while the Centre Party of outgoing PM Juha Sipila saw its support crash by a third to 13.8%. “For the first time since 1999 we are the largest party in Finland,” said SDP leader Antti Rinne. But with the vote split and no party winning by a clear margin, it may be hard to build a workable coalition. The Greens and the Left Alliance also increased their share of the vote. It is the first time in more than a century that no party has won more than 20% of the vote. Voter turnout was 72%. The Social Democrats have won 40 seats in the 200-seat parliament, one more than the Finns Party.
At the last election in 2015, the Finns Party won 38 seats, but MPs split after a leadership election in 2017. For Jussi Halla-aho, who has led the Finns Party since then, the rebuilding of the party’s parliamentary block was a cause for celebration. “I could not expect a result like this, and no-one could, ” he told supporters on Sunday evening. Mr Halla-aho had urged people to “vote for some borders” during the election campaign. Before the election, most other parties ruled out any coalition with the Finns Party. Last month, Mr Sipila’s government resigned over its failure to achieve a key policy goal on social welfare and healthcare reform. His Centre Party had been in a centre-right coalition government since 2015. Concerned about Finland’s expensive welfare system in the face of an ageing population, Mr Sipila made tackling the nation’s debt one of his government’s main aims, introducing planning reforms he hoped would save up to €3bn (£2.6bn; $3.4bn) over a decade.
But while the introduction of austerity measures – such as benefits cuts and pension freezes – resulted in Finland reducing its government debt for the first time in a decade last year, the reforms proved politically controversial. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party, a centre-left party with strong links to Finland’s trade unions, saw its popularity grow. The Social Democrats campaigned on a pledge to strengthen Finland’s welfare system. Mr Rinne earlier described Mr Sipila’s policies as unfair, and said taxes needed to be raised to combat inequality. Balancing taxes and spending is problematic for any government, and Finland has relatively high taxes. The top personal income tax rate is 51.1%. However, the average income tax rate, at 30%, is not the highest in Europe, according to OECD data. A poll commissioned by the tax authority in 2017 found that 79% of Finns questioned were happy with their taxes.