Petteri Orpo, the chairperson of the National Coalition, celebrated at the right-wing party’s election night event in Helsinki on Sunday, 2 April 2023. Orpo is set to lead the coalition formation talks that will determine how big a step right Finland will take. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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PETTERI ORPO, the chairperson of the National Coalition, will take first stab at forming a new ruling coalition after leading his party to a narrow win in the parliamentary elections, with a 20.8-per-cent share of the popular vote.

Orpo is fundamentally faced with the question, how far right to take Finland?

The Finns Party and the Social Democrats are the primary options – mutually exclusive ones – as the centre-right party begins to search for partners to form a ruling majority, the former having won 20.1 per cent and the latter 19.9 per cent of the vote.

With the National Coalition and Finns Party together set to hold 94 of the 200 seats in the Finnish Parliament, the Centre could provide the coalition a clear majority with its 23 seats, as long as it received at least some concessions to justify joining the ruling coalition after losing eight seats with a vote share of 11.3 per cent.

The coalition could be further bolstered by the Christian Democratic Party.

The key, though, would be whether the two largest coalition partners can find common ground on climate, immigration and the EU.

The Finns Party campaigned on a programme that included drastically limiting immigration from outside the 27-country bloc and postponing the carbon-neutrality goal of Finland. Chairperson Riikka Purra also confirmed during election debates that the party’s long-term strategic goal remains to leave the EU, adding that the party is not doing anything to promote the goal in the current environment.

The National Coalition has contrastively called for increasing work-based immigration, including by scrapping the labour availability consideration that enables employers to hire from non-EU and non-EEA countries only if they can demonstrate they cannot find labour in Finland. Chairperson Orpo has also declared that the party is not prepared to compromise on the national climate goals.

The National Coalition and the Social Democrats together are set to hold 91 seats, meaning their partnership would require support likely from both the Greens (13 seats) and Swedish People’s Party (9).

With Maria Ohisalo, the chairperson of the Greens, stating two weeks ago that the party has no business joining a ruling coalition unless its support improves from the 8.3 per cent it was in the final pre-election poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat, the party may be unwilling to join the coalition after winning only 7.0 per cent of the actual vote – even if it means keeping out the Finns Party.

The two main partners, meanwhile, would have their work cut out for them to particularly integrate their economic policies: While the National Coalition campaigned largely on the need to balance public finances after years of what it called reckless borrowing, the Social Democrats has consistently expressed its opposition to significant spending cuts, suggesting that the debt problem can be tackled with measures that raise the employment rate.

Outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) also floated the possibility of a single-party minority government, but it has been dismissed as unlikely given that it would require a major change in the political culture – namely, a re-think of the government programme and the creation of a continuous parliamentary negotiation process.

The coalition formation talks tend to take at least a couple of weeks.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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