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Finns Party loses out as Greens rise in local elections

The populist Finns Party has seen its support drop in local elections on Sunday, with the party polling just 8.3 percent in initial results forecasts. That's well down on the 17.7 percent and the 12.3 percent it drew in the 2015 parliamentary election and the 2012 local elections respectively. Yle's election forecast put the National Coalition Party in the lead, with the Greens posting the biggest gains.

Results of municipal elections 2017
Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Preliminary results in Finland's local elections suggest the co-ruling Finns Party has lost a big chunk of support since the last parliamentary election in 2015, when the party polled 17.7 percent of the vote. The party is struggling to match the 12.3 percent it recorded in the last local elections in 2012, with nearly half of the expected votes counted.

You can see up to the minute results on national and local levels here.

The populist Finns Party has seen a string of upset victories in Finnish elections, with the party jumping from 4 percent support in 2007 to 19 percent in the 2011 parliamentary elections. That success was won on the back of strident criticism of EU bailouts for Greece and Portugal, and criticism of Finnish immigration policy, as well as sharp words for elites perceived as cosmopolitan and out of touch.

Burden of govt erodes Finns Party's support

That swagger has dissipated somewhat since the party entered government in 2015 and leader Timo Soini assumed the post of Foreign Minister. Once in government, the upstart party made compromises on its election stance on bailouts and immigration that proved to be deeply unpopular with its support base, many of whom defected to other parties.

Soini has announced he will step down as leader this summer, with parliamentary group leader Sampo Terho and hardline anti-immigration MEP Jussi Halla-aho favourites to succeed him.

With support now lagging way behind the peaks of 2011 and 2015, the party now has big decisions ahead of it. Asked about the early results in light of the party's breakthrough results in previous elections, Soini suggested that the party may have come to the end of its winning ways.

"Politics is such that when you've been in 17 elections and won 16, the day will come when you don't win anymore. That day was today," he declared.

"I take responsibility for these elections," Soini said later in the evening.

Halla-aho was guarded in his response to the early returns, however he acknowledged that even those results defied his expectations.

"At this stage the results are weaker than I would have expected," he told Yle.

However he noted that it would be foolhardy to forecast the final results on the basis of the early count. He said that he hoped the party would recover lost ground as the vote count proceeded, especially in Helsinki, where the party appeared to be lagging behind.

NCP's Vapaavuori the biggest vote-getter

Yle's election forecast put Finance Minister Petteri Orpo's National Coalition party in the lead in the 2017 municipal election, with a projected vote catch of 20.4 percent. While the NCP also emerged with the biggest vote count in 2012 with 21.9 percent in the final count, this year's projection clearly trailed the previous outcome. Still party chair Orpo said he was pleased with the result.

"The results were good across the country, but we’re especially proud of our Helsinki outcome," Orpo said, referring to the party's strong performance in the capital.

National Coalition ex-minister and mayoral candidate Van Vapaavuori established himself as the biggest vote magnet from early on. He ended the night with 29,540 votes, more than anyone else in the country.

"The number of votes is so overwhelming that it's humbling. Of course it's clear that the mayoral race is also influencing the election result," Vapaavuori said.

The former economy minister's vote haul has now eclipsed the previous record set by NCP Ben Zyskowicz in 1996.

"The NCP's lead over the Greens is now so significant, that Vapaavuori will be Helsinki's new mayor," Zyskowicz declared soon after early results were in.

Parties on the Helsinki city council have agreed that the group with the highest number of votes will have their candidate installed as mayor.

Well before the evening was over, officials reckoned that the voter turnout in Helsinki was 61.6 percent, 4.2 percentage points higher than in 2012.

Centre and opposition SDP the trail leader

Meanwhile Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's Centre Party had to settle for third place, as it ended up with 17.7 percent of the vote. That put it in third place behind the NCP and the opposition Social Democratic Party, which won 19.3 percent of voter support.

Commenting on the outcome, Centre chair Sipilä congratulated the Greens on the party's strong performance in the election. However he was quick to point out who was in government.

"This wasn’t a parliamentary election but a municipal election," Sipilä said. "I'm very happy with this result and the good work by our candidates around the country. I am very satisfied although 17 percent is a small disappointment," he added.

During the last municipal election in 2012, the Centre Party netted 18.7 percent of votes in the final count.

The opposition Social Democratic Party also fell short of its 2012 result, when the party polled at 19.6 percent.

"Among the big parties, the SDP is one of the few to have maintained support over 19 percent in successive elections," party leader and ex-union man Antti Rinne said of the results.

Giant leap for Greens

But the much of the night belonged to the Greens and the Left Alliance, which increased their share of the vote to 12.4 and 8.8 percent respectively.

For the Greens the result meant an increase of 4.2 percentage-points over its previous election performance. "You can trust us, we are as good as our word," said outgoing Greens chair Ville Niinistö as he arrived at the party's victory party at Helsinki's Tavastia Club.

"Thank you, thank you," the crowd of supporters chanted.

"Finns are fed up of politicians saying that you have to sacrifice," Niinistö told the crowd. He later told Yle that the result shows that voters were ready for more humane reforms that stressed investment in green technologies and education as an alternative to austerity.

The Left Alliance also celebrated an election rush of nearly a full percentage point over the last election to poll 8.8 percent support. Party leader Li Andersson said that the group's place in opposition helped boost the election outcome.

"We've had a clear policy to criticise the government for spending cuts and tax policies that increase inequality," Andersson told Yle.

She pointed out that social and health care reform has also been an important theme for the Left. She added that she hoped that government would be more prepared to listen to criticism of its plans.

Christian Democrat resurrection

Among the smaller parties, the Christian Democrats celebrated a record performance, pulling 4.1 percent of the vote.

"It looks and feels really good. This is due to the fact that we have a record number of candidates. The election work we have done across the country is bearing fruit," Christian Democrats chair Sari Essayah told Yle.

The Swedish People's Party also looked strong, coming in with 4.9% of the vote nationwide. Chair Anna-Maja Henriksson attributed the party's improved results to its opposition to the government's radical social and health care reform programme.

"We are seeing that the government's social and health care reform will not improve health care for Finns and that it is neither just nor clever," Henriksson concluded.

With nearly 98 percent of votes counted shortly before midnight, the Justice Ministry's election results service indicated a voter turnout of 58.8 percent, up slightly from 58.2 percent in 2012.

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