Finland Sanna Marin has high approval ratings – that might not be enough for an election victory

Stockholm Finland’s Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin has to worry about her re-election in the parliamentary elections on Sunday. All polls predict an extremely close outcome and numerous coalition opportunities.

The charismatic head of government has given everything in the past few days, rushing from TV studio to TV studio, promoting her party on marketplaces in order to keep the chance of being able to lead the government in the future.

“She is clearly the most popular party leader, no one else even comes close to her approval ratings,” says politics professor Kimmo Grönlund from the Abo Academy in Turku. Her party also benefited from the popularity of the 37-year-old. “Without them, the Social Democrats would perhaps only get 16 percent of the votes instead of the current 20 percent,” says Grönlund.

In a poll conducted by the country’s largest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, 64 percent of respondents said Marin did a “very good” or “fairly good” job. Among the women surveyed, it was even 69 percent.

“It is extremely unusual in Finland for a head of government to have such high scores at the end of the legislative period,” says Grönlund. She has benefited from always speaking her mind clearly, he says. “Her foreign policy comments were always unequivocal, and she was also good at pushing social democratic politics.”

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But the political scientist also sees their weaknesses. Your social media activities with many private pictures and videos were not well received by many, especially older voters. There was also room for improvement in the management of public finances. She also showed weakness in leadership within the coalition.

According to the latest polls, an exciting three-way battle between Marin’s Social Democrats, the Conservatives and the right-wing populist party The Finns is looming on Sunday. All three parties then get around 20 percent of the votes – with a wafer-thin lead for the Conservatives.

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One problem for Marin is the poor approval ratings for her coalition partners. The current coalition of Social Democrats, the Center Party, the Greens, the Left Party and the Swedish-speaking minority party will not be able to continue even if Marin wins.

The Center Party has already announced that it is not available for a new government led by Marin. “The next government will look different,” political scientist Grönlund is certain.

A grand coalition of Marin’s Social Democrats and the conservative party is therefore just as conceivable as an alliance of conservatives and right-wing populists. “Two of the three strongest parties will be needed for the next governing coalition,” Grönlund believes.

Marin still hopes that the voters will reward what most observers believe to be good crisis management. In fact, the youngest head of government in the world when she took office in 2019 had to deal with the fight against the corona pandemic almost immediately after the elections.

Since last year, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine has dominated the agenda. Finland shares a 1300 km border with Russia. The geographic proximity to the aggressor led to a complete reversal of the country’s policy of neutrality, which it had pursued for decades. Under the leadership of Sanna Marin, the country initiated the NATO accession process.

Still unthinkable a good year ago, Finland’s membership in the military alliance is now within reach: after Hungary, after some hesitation, voted for Finland to join NATO, all that’s left is the green light from Turkey. It is announced for the next few days. As a result, Finland could become a member of the North Atlantic Defense Alliance as early as next month.

Marin has successfully sworn her compatriots to the task of non-alignment – after all, more than 80 percent of Finns are in favor of NATO membership. But the accession instrument may be signed by her successor.

Security policy played only a subordinate role in the election campaign

Even if it is surprising, security policy and in particular the desired NATO membership played only a subordinate role in the election campaign. The reason: All parties agree on this issue. Controversial issues, on the other hand, are not only tax, social and health policy, but above all the national debt, which at 144 billion euros is unusually high for the country.

While the conservatives under their chairman Petteri Orpo want to bring the public sector’s debt back into balance with tax breaks and simultaneous spending cuts, Marin’s social democrats stand for tax increases for higher earners.

Election campaign in Finland

From left: Riikka Purra, leader of the right-wing populist party The Finns, Petteri Orpo, Petteri Orpo, leader of the Conservatives and Sanna Marin of the Social Democrats.

(Photo: IMAGO/Lehtikuva)

“Marin’s economic and fiscal policy differs significantly from the conservatives’ program,” says political scientist Grönlund. However, he does not want to rule out a coalition between the two parties. “Nothing is impossible in Finland, we have seen in the past that in principle everyone can do with everyone.”

The right-wing populists are trumping

The big unknown is Riikka Purra, leader of the right-wing populist party The Finns. She has sharply attacked the head of government in recent weeks after Marin described the party as “openly racist”.

Purra had previously opposed a more liberal immigration policy. She and her party are alone in this, because all other parties are in favor of visa facilitation because of major demographic problems and the associated bottlenecks on the labor market.

While Sanna Marin was initially able to score particularly well with younger voters thanks to her numerous social media activities, Purra has now followed in her footsteps. The 45-year-old posts her messages on Tiktok almost every day. With videos and simple language, she apparently hit the zeitgeist, especially among young voters.

Whether that will be enough to become Marin’s successor is not certain. In any case, The Finns party could play a leading role in a bourgeois coalition. That would be a challenge for Europe, since she is against stricter environmental regulations and wants to stem immigration into the EU.

What does Marin do in case of defeat? Political scientist Grönlund shakes his head. “Regardless of whether it is enough to form a government or not, her position within the party should be strengthened.” But whether she is staying or is aiming for a post on the international stage, he cannot say. “The younger generation is quicker to leave a job, so I can’t give you an answer.” But he is certain of one thing: “There will be long and complicated negotiations to form a government.”

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