Finland's opposition party retains stronghold in local elections

Agence France-Presse. Helsinki, Finland | Published: 06:41, Jun 14,2021


Finland's opposition conservative party retained its stronghold in the country's municipal elections on Sunday, in a vote that saw the far-right make large gains but falling short of pollsters' expectations.

With over 99 percent of the votes counted, the centre-right National Coalition Party was the largest winner with 21.3 percent of the vote across Finland's 300-odd local councils, a small gain on four years ago.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Social Democrats placed second, over three percentage points behind, in her first test at the polls since coming to power in December 2019, and following a campaign dominated by how to manage the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Despite a fall of 1.6 percent on 2017, Marin managed to defy predictions that her party could fall to third or even fourth place in the Nordic nation's town halls.

The nationalist Finns Party, which ran on a hardline anti-immigration ticket, came in as the fourth largest party with 14.5 percent of the vote, narrowly behind the Centre Party.

That marks an almost six percent improvement for the populists on the last local election in 2017 -- the largest gain of any party on Sunday. 

But the Finns Party fell short of their 17.5 percent vote share in the 2019 general election, and also failed to live up to pollsters' forecasts that they could become the largest or second largest party in local government.

Nonetheless party leader Jussi Halla-aho garnered over 18,500 personal votes, the largest haul of any candidate, far outstripping Prime Minister Sanna Marin who stood as a councillor in the southern town of Tampere and won just over 10,000 votes.

Marin has nonetheless enjoyed relatively high levels of support, having been credited with helping Finland maintain some of Europe's lowest levels of coronavirus infection.

Sunday's election was postponed from April due to the pandemic, and despite efforts to make voting Covid-safe, with outdoor, drive-in polling stations during an extended advanced voting period, turnout on Sunday was 55.1 percent compared to 58.9 percent in 2017.


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