Popularity does not always underwrite poll wins. This is true for Finland’s Sanna Marin too. The Nordic nation’s most popular centre-left prime minister has been defeated. She has lost, albeit narrowly, in the 2023 Finnish parliamentary elections held on 2 April. For the fiscally-conservative Finnish, the 37-year-old Ms Marin turned into a no-no, despite her exemplary handling of the Covid pandemic. It was her moment of reckoning. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/apr/02/sanna- marin-finland-election-sdp-social-democratic-national-coalition
Video Courtesy: YouTube/euronews
Prevalent Trend of Splintering
Finally, Ms Marin’s performance on economic parameters mattered the most for Finland’s voters. In her reign, Finland’s public debt had surged to a high of 75 per cent of its GDP. She had no control over defence expenditure, which was on the verge of ballooning. Yet, Ms Marin took no effort to shift her focus away from runaway social spending. This proved to be her undoing. The fact that Ms Marin has been prime minister since 2019 failed to come to her rescue in the polls.
Quick to cash in on, the conservative centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP) leader Petteri Orpo moved in swiftly for the kill. Mr Orpo is a consummate politician. While he campaigned, the 53-year-old Mr Orpo vowed to slash social spending and prune the fiscal deficit. Strategically, Mr Orpo moved economic issues to centre stage of Finnish politics. The prevalent trend of political splintering in Europe added more strength to his strategy. https://www.politico.eu/article/finland- elections-petteri-orpo-sanna-marin-mr-dependable-finlands- election-winner/
Cannot Ignore Ms Marin
Emerging as a major beneficiary of the numerous turns and twists of Finnish politics, Mr Orpo has now left Ms Marin and her centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) behind. Finland can expect Mr Orpo to take over soon as the new prime minister. However, Mr Orpo and his party can ride to power only on the back of a coalition. The hard-right Finns will have to be his major coalition partner.
Ms Marin’s SDP too is expected to be part of Mr Orpo’s power assemblage. After all, in the 200-member Finnish parliament, no party enjoys a post-poll majority. The NCP is the single largest party, followed by the Finns and then the SDP. Coalition has become thus a necessity for Mr Orpo and his NCP. Bad luck, Mr Orpo cannot ignore Ms Marin’s stellar role in Finland’s struggles to join NATO. He will have to negotiate with her now. https://www.npr.org/2023/04/03/1167691004/sanna-marin- finland-election-prime-minister
Will Need the Far-Right Finns
Nor can Mr Orpo overlook the popular support Ms Marin had earned during her Join-NATO campaign for Finland. Not surprising that he needs Ms Marin’s SDP. Above all, Mr Orpo is shrewd enough to recognise the fact that Ms Marin’s SDP did manage to raise its vote share and its parliamentary member count in the recent polls. As a force, Ms Marin is too important to be ignored in Finnish politics.
The SDP apart, Mr Orpo will have to enlist the support of the far-right Finns party too. As Mr Orpo readies for his crowning day, global politicos are asking a loaded question: why did Ms Marin lose, despite her personal popularity? Certainly, she has lost the elections not because of her uninhibited dancing at a private party. As she cleared a drugs test subsequently, the much hyped-up story of her partying has been long forgotten. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/finlands-sanna-marin- loses-to-conservative-opponents/
Ukraine Continues to be a Major Issue
How then did Ms Marin lose despite SDP improving its vote share? How could she enable her party add three more seats? These questions have one simple and straight answer. Ms Marin lost because of the big gains of Mr Orpo’s NCP and the Finns. The debacle of the smaller parties in Ms Marin’s left-coalition ensured her defeat was complete. Mr Orpo’s economic promises blunted her show of determination in taking Finland into NATO. Finland became NATO’s 31st member on 4 April and her strong support for Ukraine continues. Yet, Ms Marin has been beaten. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-65173043
With their firm focus on economic issues, particularly Finland’s burgeoning indebtedness and social profligacy, the NCP and its partners have been able to inflict on Ms Marin this shock defeat. Not that Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is not an issue for the Finnish. The invasion continues to be a major issue in Finland. This is why Finland has finally managed to get into NATO. However, it has not been an electoral issue, not a bone of contention in the recent polls. https://poliphoon.com/a- bogey-unyolked/
There is More to Mr Orpo’s Win
It was quite natural that the fiscally prudent Finnish voted on overbearing economic issues of the state. The Finnish want a significant slash in social-programme spending, including liberal benefits for the nation’s unemployed. A finance-literate Mr Orpo symbolises that desire. Though he is not as charismatic as Ms Marin, he is known for his sharp focus on Finalnd’s economic affairs. The Finnish feel this focus is the need of the hour as the Ukraine war continues to rage on, precipitating a recession in Europe.
There is more to Mr Orpo’s win. The 53-year-old is an experienced hand in Finnish politics. He has led his centre-right party, close to seven years now. He was deputy prime minister, between 2017 and 2019, holding several portfolios. Fortunately, Finland’s constitution too is on his side. Finland’s proportional representation system will make sure Mr Orpo, the leader of the largest party, gets the first preference to form a viable government. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/petteri- orpo-finland-election-win-b2312791.html
Mr Orpo to Face Obstacles
Mr Orpo is sure to cement his position further. Expect him to send out questionnaires to other smaller parties soliciting their support for his coalition. Foremost among them will be the far-right Finns, who are dead against non-EU immigration. They are sure to back Mr Orpo. However, Mr Orpo may face some obstacles here, not so insurmountable. The Greens and the Centre Party are likely to be unenthused of backing Mr Orpo.
These two parties are sure to stay out of the coalition Mr Orpo is trying to assemble. Other smaller parties too may not back Mr Orpo. In all, there are 10 parties in the Finnish parliament. The smaller parties do not want to be a part of any coalition that has the Finns. The moderates in Mr Orpo’s centre-right NCP too are not keen either on making any concessions to smaller parties. https://www.daijiworld.com/news/newsDisplay?newsID=1066 966
This has something to do with the fact that the NCP moderates, along with the Finns, are not exactly on the same page with the smaller parties on economic issues. Ideologically too, they are poles apart. This is where the SDP and Ms Marin come in. Even if the SDP joins the coalition, without the support of smaller splinter parties, Mr Orpo will have a tough time in forming a government. Expect Mr Orpo to leverage his charm fully to rope in the entire spectrum of smaller centre-right partners. He will go full throttle in doing so.
The net effect of all these manoeuvres will be negative for Finland. The Nordic nation will swing to the Right, much as Italy and Sweden did recently, and as Spain and Poland are expected to do soon. Not at all a pleasant prospect. https://poliphoon.com/the-rise-of-a- nationalist-right/ Come what may, both the centre-right and the hard-right are sure to join hands. The centre-right has already captured much of Europe. Finland is only confirming this general trend and looks poised for further fragmentation. Unfortunately for Finland, Ms Marin is the latest victim of this dangerous trend.