Finland’s main conservative party has claimed victory in a tightly-fought parliamentary election.
With all of the votes counted on Sunday, the centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP) came out on top at 20.8 percent. They were followed by the right-wing populist party, The Finns, with 20.1 percent, while Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats garnered 19.9 percent.
With the top three parties each getting around 20 percent of the vote, no party is in a position to form a government alone. Over 2,400 candidates from 22 parties were vying for the 200 seats in the Nordic country’s parliament.
“We got the biggest mandate,” NCP leader Petteri Orpo said as he claimed victory, surrounded by supporters in a restaurant in the capital, Helsinki.
“Based on this result, talks over forming a new government to Finland will be initiated under the leadership of the National Coalition Party,” he said.
Marin, who at age 37 is one of Europe’s youngest leaders, conceded defeat.
“Congratulations to the winner of the elections, congratulations to the National Coalition Party, congratulations to The Finns Party. Democracy has spoken,” the prime minister said in a speech to party members.
“We have gained support, we have gained more seats [in parliament]. That is an excellent achievement, even if we did not finish first today,” she added.
Marin, considered by fans around the globe as a millennial role model for progressive new leaders, has received praise in the West for her vocal support of Ukraine and her prominent role, along with President Sauli Niinisto, in advocating for Finland’s successful application to join NATO.
But at home, she has faced criticism for her partying and her government’s public spending, including on pensions and education.
The NCP, which has led in polls for almost two years, has accused Marin of eroding the country’s economic resilience at a time when Europe’s energy crisis, driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine, has hit the country hard and the cost of living has increased.
It has promised to curb spending and stop the rise of public debt, which has reached just over 70 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) since Marin took office in 2019.
Orpo, 53, told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday that Finland’s solidarity with Ukraine would remain strong during his tenure.
“First to Ukraine: We stand by you, with you,” the former finance minister said at the NCP’s victory event.
“We cannot accept this terrible war. And we will do all that is needed to help Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, because they fight for us. This is clear,” Orpo added.
“And the message to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is: Go away from Ukraine because you will lose.”
The NCP’s share of votes translates into 48 seats in the Eduskunta, Finland’s parliament, while The Finns, a nationalist party running largely on an anti-immigration and anti-European Union agenda, is to get 46 seats and Marin’s Social Democrats 43 seats, respectively.
Observers say the result means a power shift in Finland’s political scene as the nation is now likely to get a new centre-right government with nationalist tones.
“It’s been an amazing election night. We just won 10 more seats. The next thing is to get government ready. So, it’s going to be a very exciting week ahead,” Kristinna Kokko, the National Coalition Party secretary, told Al Jazeera from Helsinki.
She said it was too early to talk about potential coalition partners. “Our prime minister candidate will lead the negotiations, and it’s going to be a tight negotiation in any case.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed al-Madhoun, reporting from Helsinki, said the NCP’s supporters were jubilant at Sunday’s win.
“Supporters here are cheering and celebrating the NCP’s win and this party is looking to come back to government after four years of momentous changes, starting with the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and Finland’s application to join NATO,” he said.
“The NCP is now thinking about how to form a new government, specially with the exceptional rise of the Finns Party, led by Riikka Purra,” he said, adding that the talks are expected to start in the coming days.
The NCP and The Finns largely share views on developing Finland’s economy, though they have differences in climate policies and European Union issues.
“I trust the Finnish tradition of negotiating with all parties and trying to find the best possible majority government for Finland,” Orpo told the AP.
“And you know what is important for us? It’s that we are an active member of the European Union. We build up NATO-Finland, and we fix our economy. We boost our economic growth and create new jobs. These are the crucial, main, important issues we have to write into the government programme,” he said.