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Finnish PM, known for her partying, loses re-election to right-wing coalition

By Sarah May
|
April 3, 2023

Progressive Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin's hopes for a second term in office were dashed Sunday, when she was pushed into third place in the country's national elections by two conservative factions, the National Coalition Party (NCP) and The Finns, as the Associated Press reports.

Marin, now 37, made headlines as the world's youngest prime minister when first elected back in 2019, and during her tenure, she courted controversy and drew widespread criticism for incidents in which she was accused of partying in a manner unbecoming the nation's leader, according to the U.K. Guardian.

Marin defeated

According to the AP, the NCP garnered 20.8% of the votes in the Finnish election, with The Finns taking 20.1%, ushering in a noteworthy change in the country's governing trajectory.

Marin's Social Democrats received 19.9%, and given the close margins separating the parties, none of the three will be able to form a government on its own, making the formation of a coalition necessary.

After the outcome was known, NCP leader Petteri Orpo declared, “Based on this result, talks over forming a new government to Finland will be initiated under the leadership of the National Coalition Party.”

“I trust the Finnish tradition of negotiating with all parties and trying to find the best possible majority government for Finland,” Orpo added.

“Democracy has spoken”

Marin, for her part, conceded the election soon after Orpo declared victory. “Congratulations to the winner of the elections, congratulations to the National Coalition Party, congratulations to the Finns Party. Democracy has spoken.”

Having first taken office at the age of 34, Marin was successful in forming a center-left coalition that included five distinct parties – all of which had young, female, leaders.

The young progressive was lauded during her tenure for standing firm in her country's unwavering support for Ukraine as well as for shepherding Finland's successful application to join NATO.

In the end, however, voters in this election cycle appeared to be focused more on economic matters and concerns over government spending and public debt, according to the BBC, giving conservative voices the edge this time around.

Scandals cloud tenure

Though Marin maintains high approval ratings among the Finnish electorate, her time in office was not without scandal, as she was embroiled in multiple controversies related to her personal life last summer, as the Guardian noted.

Marin issued two separate public apologies in August of 2022 following the publication of photo and video materials which appeared to reveal a hard partying lifestyle critics claimed was incompatible with her official duties.

One such photo showed two topless women kissing during a party at the prime minister's official residence, and video footage of Marin drinking and dancing wildly at a party rumored to have included drug use only added fuel to the public relations fire.

Though Marin denied any wrongdoing and insisted that she had been capable of meeting her official obligations at all times, she apologized to the public for the controversy, the Guardian added.

What comes next

Now that the election results are in, and Marin has conceded, the conservatives will endeavor to form a government, and if those efforts are successful, Orpo will ascend to the role of prime minister, as the BBC explains.

As Finnish political journalist Matti Koivisto noted of Orpo, “He's a career politician. He's been in the game since the 1990s, and he's quite stable and calm. There is criticism that maybe he's too dull and calm, but it also works quite well in Finland.”

University of Turku history professor Vesa Vares described Orpo as a “sort of dream son-in-law” who will likely bring moderation and a focus on economic policy to the job.

As a consequence of Finland's proportional representation structure, however, Orpo now faces a significant challenge when it comes to marshaling sufficient consensus to form a functioning coalition, and whether that ends up pulling him more toward the nationalist Finns or Marin's Social Democrats, only time will tell.