Finland votes in election centered on welfare, climate and immigration

Some 4.5 million Finns head to the polls Sunday to vote for representatives to the the 200-seat Eduskunta parliament.

The ballot is expected to shake up the country's political landscape following a campaign dominated by debates over how to preserve the country's prized welfare system, the costs of combating climate change, and immigration.

What do the polls say?

  • The opposition center-left Social Democratic Party is expected to come out on top with 19 percent support.
  • That outcome would give party leader Antti Rinne, a former finance minister, the task of finding coalition partners to form the first left-leaning government in two decades.
  • The conservative National Coalition Party, which is in the outgoing center-right governing coalition, is neck-and-neck in second with the far-right Finns Party at around 16-17 percent.
  • Prime Minister Juha Sipila's Center Party and the Greens are expected to come in third and fourth.

EU watching

Finland is set to take over the rotating EU presidency on July 1. European capitals are watching the performance of the Finns Party, which saw its support surge in the run-up to the vote. Many observers expect similar euroskeptic and nationalist parties make strong gains in next month's EU parliamentary elections.

Read more: Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant parties team up for EU election

What were the dominant campaign issues?

Welfare:

The Social Democrats and other parties criticized Sipila's outgoing center-right coalition for implementing welfare cuts in an attempt to reinvigorate the economy. Rinne advocated for increasing taxes and spending to preserve health and social benefits and a world-class education system.

Read more: Finland keeps crown as world's happiest country

Immigration:

Only 6.6 percent of the population is foreign-born, the lowest rate in Western Europe. Until recently, immigration was only a minor election issue. However, the Finns Party has attracted voters from small towns and villages worried about the issue, especially following publicized incidents of alleged sexual assaults by migrants last year. Other party leaders have cautioned against anti-immigrant rhetoric and generalizations about migrants. Rinne supports moderate work-related immigration and taking in some asylum seekers.

Read more: Climate protection: Where do the EU's right-wing populists stand?

Climate change:

Most parties support efforts to combat climate change, but they differed during the campaign on how far to go and at what cost. The Finns Party used the debate as a wedge issue to attract voters skeptical of the costs of further action.

cw/amp (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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