‘Party Girl’ Millennial Prime Minister Out as Finland Swings to Right in National Elections

Wins for right-wing parties spell the end of the Sanna Marin government, Finland’s millennial Prime Minister perhaps best known abroad for going nightclubbing during the coronavirus era when she was, according to her government’s own rules, supposed to be quarantined.

The centrist-conservative National Coalition Party (NCP / KOK) came out top in Sunday’s Finland national election, according to results released Monday morning. The election went down to the wire, with the establishment right-wing party coming first at an estimated 20.8 per cent by just a fraction of a point over the closely-following populist Finns Party at 20.1 per cent, gaining seven new seats.

The left-wing Social Democrats (SDP) of Prime Minister Sanna Marin came in third place, again trailing close, with 19.9 per cent. In real terms, NCP has 48 seats, the Finns 46, and the SDP 43, with the remaining 63 seats in the house divided between seven smaller parties. Helsingin Sanomat, one of Finland’s largest newspapers characterised the election as “exceptionally hard”.

Although Marin’s SDP actually managed to increase its vote and seat share at this election compared to the last parliamentary election in 2019, it failed to grow as much as the two major right-wing parties in the house, with all three top parties growing this election at the expense of medium-size parties, which took a beating. The result is the culmination of years of faltering polling compared to her right-wing opponents for Marin, with the public faced with a series of strange low-key scandals from the Prime Minister, as well as high levels of government spending that has antagonised conservatives and became the main election issue.

Marin’s government was initially hailed for being so young and female, with some attention given to her left-wing views and policies, including Marine’s propensity to address her party colleagues as “comrades”, in the old communist mold. Claims that “misogynistic” attacks against Marin and her government were a “threat to democracy” were made.

But a series of unusual and — perhaps — millennial-generation-specific scandals came to be associated with Marin and brought her attention in global media. In 2021, during Finland’s coronavirus lockdown rules being in force, Prime Minister Marin went out nightclubbing but didn’t take her official mobile phone with her. Because the Prime Minister was out of contact for that period, she didn’t receive instruction under her own government’s coronavirus rules instructing her to go into quarantine because a foreign politician she had met with the day before had tested positive for the virus.

A propensity to party landed the Prime Minister in hot water again the following year, with Marin having to take a drugs test — which she passed — in 2022 after footage of her partying emerged. Marin insisted she had only taken alcohol, but the fact videos from the party showed the married Prime Minister dancing suggestively, and “intimately” with male revellers including a Finnish pop-star again filled world newspapers.

Some expressed concern at the antics of the leader of a strategically important country with a long land border with Russia during the heightened tension of the Ukraine war, but others rushed to Marin’s defence. Slate, for instance, implored: “Finland Really Has to Stop Being Such an Incredible Loser About Its Hot, Dancing Prime Minister”.

Regardless, the incidents raised questions about the legal responsibilities of the Prime Minister, who unless a deputy has been specifically named and powers officially handed over as in the case of the PM taking annual leave, for instance, is technically in charge and expected to have the capacity to make decisions 24-hours-a-day.

What Finland’s next government will look like will now be determined in the coming weeks. As the leader of the largest party, Petteri Orpo hailed the “great victory” will have the first opportunity to try and form a governing coalition after Easter and can probably go in two directions with this decision. On one hand, the second largest party is the right-wing populist Finns Party, but he may struggle to find enough smaller parties willing to join that coalition to push it over the 50-per-cent mark of forming a stable government.

Such a pattern is seen across Europe, where right-populist parties can perform well in elections, but are subjected to a ‘cordon sanitaire’ by left-wing and centrist parties, forbidding any interaction or cooperation with the populists whatsoever, effectively locking them out of government altogether despite their healthy vote-shares. In Finland’s case, the second-place-nationally Finns party is in favour of taking the county out of the European Union, and against importing foreign workers, things all other parties disagree with.

The best way to make this work, the Helsinki Times reports, is to bring on board the Christian Democrats with their five seats, but even this would only give the government 99 seats in the chamber of 200.

On the other hand, Orpo can attempt a centrist, or traffic-light coalition, such as they have in Germany. Reaching out to the now-governing SDP to become his junior partner could bring the Green Party too, leaving the right outgunned in their own government by the left but at least technically in charge. Forming this government comes with difficulties of its own, given how this election was fought on their differences, particularly on economic issues.


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