Finns head to the polls in close election as Sanna Marin seeks re-election

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Helsinki, Finland, Saturday, April 1, 2023. Parliamentary elections in Finland on Sunday are shaping up to be an extremely close three-party race as the Social Democrats under Prime Minister Sanna Marin are fighting to secure a second term at the helm of government. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) (Sergei Grits/)

Polling stations opened on Sunday in Finlandwhere three parties were expected to engage in a close contest as Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats battle to secure a second term in government.

More than 2,400 candidates from 22 parties were vying for the 200 seats in the Nordic country’s parliament, the Eduskunta.

Marin, who at 37 is one of Europe’s youngest leaders, has been praised for her cabinet’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and for her prominent role, alongside President Sauli Niinistö, in defending Finland’s successful application to join NATO. His vocal support for Ukraine in the past year has increased his international visibility.

Finns vote in close elections;  young leader seeks re-election
FILE – From left, True Finns Party chair Riikka Purra, SDP chair Sanna Marin and National Coalition Party chair Petteri Orpo pose before the election debate, organized by the media company MTV, in Helsinki, Finland, on March 29, 2023. (Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva via AP, File) (Markku Ulander/)

“Of course we expect the Social Democrats to win this election… It is very important because we want to remain an open society. We also want to work together internationally. We want to build a better green and sustainable future where people have equal opportunities in life.”Marin told the Associated Press while campaigning in central Helsinki on Saturday.

Marin remains popular at home, but his party’s views on the Finnish economy, which emerged as the main issue of the campaign, were being challenged by two main opponents: the center-right National Coalition Party led by Petteri Orpo and the right-wing populist Finns party, which is led by Riikka Purra.

“The most important thing in the next government is to fix our economy, boost economic growth, balance the public economy. And the second very important issue is to strengthen NATO-Finland,” Orpo told the AP during a campaign event in Espoo, on the outskirts of the capital, on Saturday.

Finns vote in close elections;  young leader seeks re-election
Election posters are seen in Helsinki, Finland, on Saturday, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits) (Sergei Grits/)

Riikka Purra stressed that Finns would focus on shaping Finland’s migration, climate, crime and energy policies if the populist party becomes a partner in the next government.

“And we also want to toughen our attitude towards the European Union,” Purra said during a campaign event in the municipality of Kirkkonummi, his home district located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Helsinki.

Recent polls indicated that each of the three parties could get around 20% of the vote. If that happens, neither party would be in a position to form a government alone; Whichever wins the most votes is expected to start talks in the coming days to form a governing coalition.

Finns vote in close elections;  young leader seeks re-election
Finnish Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party (SDP) Chairwoman Sanna Marin poses for a selfie during a campaign event at the Tammela market square in her hometown Tampere, Finland on April 1, 2023, ahead of Parliamentary elections on Sunday. April 2. (Kalle Parkkinen/Lehtikuva via AP) (Kalle Parkkinen/)

Finland, which is expected to join NATO in the coming weeks, is a member of the European Union with a population of 5.5 million.

Polls close at 1700 GMT (12 pm ET). Initial results are expected by midnight.

(with information from AP)

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