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Yle election analysis: Marin v Orpo, Centre v Finns, coalition clashes

Yle hosted a leaders' debate on Thursday evening ahead of Finland's regional elections on Sunday 23 January.

The leaders of Finland's nine main political parties debated social and healthcare issues ahead of the final day of voting in regional elections on Sunday. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Yle hosted a leaders' debate on Thursday evening ahead of the last day of voting in regional elections on Sunday 23 January, and the publication of a party poll earlier in the day is adding additional dimensions to the debate.

The opposition National Coalition Party (NCP), led by Petteri Orpo, topped the poll once again, further increasing its lead over Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Social Democratic Party (SDP), currently in second place.

However, the biggest swings in support were seen just behind the front two, with the Centre Party, chaired by Annika Saarikko, enjoying a 2.4 percentage point bump in voter backing to move into third place in the poll, replacing the Riikka Purra-led Finns Party, which saw its support drop by over 3 percentage points.

The standings in the latest Yle survey were evident throughout the debate too, with Marin frequently challenging Orpo and Saarikko clashing with Purra.

However, while Marin and Orpo were each striving to clarify the social and healthcare policies of their respective parties, Saarikko and Purra were in a battle for the hearts and minds of the same voters.

Marin v Orpo

During Thursday evening's debate, NCP chair Orpo spoke about his party's plans for curbing increasing costs in the social and healthcare sectors.

One option Orpo proposed — a policy dear to his party — was that public sector agencies should openly publish their costs.

"When we have these [costs], we can then always choose the most appropriate provider," he said, adding that this is not an ideological issue for his party, but based on the belief that the cheapest and best service provider should be chosen.

However, Marin challenged Orpo on the idea that competition for services should be largely based on price.

"For example, in the case of services for the disabled, clients of child protection services or for many vulnerable groups, it is precisely the price that should not be the deciding factor. Quality should matter," Marin argued.

The parties also disagreed on the required staff quotas for the provision of 24-hour enhanced care, which the NCP has argued will take staff resources away from homecare services. The SDP, on the other hand, has taken the position that healthcare resources should not be stretched to the extent that workers are exhausted.

Although the exchanges between Marin and Orpo revealed very little new in terms of policies, they did further clarify the profile of both parties. However, with their ideologies already well established, the SDP and the NCP are not directly competing for the same voters in this election.

This week's All Points North podcast looked at how voters can decide who to vote for in Sunday's regional elections. You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here, via Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or on your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.

Article continues after audio.

Saarikko: Finns Party should also try to solve problems

Centre Party chair Saarikko challenged Finns Party leader Purra throughout the debate, arguing that although Purra's party knows how to point out problems in the social and healthcare systems, they are not as fast in offering solutions.

"Riikka Purra, I want to tell you, and it may be that this is just my own experience. In every speech, you say that everything is going to go wrong. Isn't the election being held precisely so that people who are able to solve these problems are elected to the regional councils," Saarikko asked.

Purra referred to an article in the monthly Kuntalehti publication, which is produced by the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, and an interview with Tarja Myllärinen, the association's Director of Social Change, where Myllärinen had said that there are very strong grounds for postponing regional social and healthcare reform.

Purra added that the money allocated for the reform is not enough to cover all the promises the government has made.

Clashes within the coalition

Green Party interim leader Iiris Suomela also challenged Marin over the so-called 'therapy guarantee', which would set a one-month deadline for people to gain access to mental health services.

"I will repeat the question to the Prime Minister as you have repeatedly pointed out that the care guarantee would include a therapy guarantee. This is not yet the case, but the consultation round is over and feedback has been received. Will this be fixed?" Suomela asked.

Marin denied having promised that the care guarantee would include a therapy guarantee, adding, however, that the seven-day care guarantee would also include mental health services.

"The person will be contacted, and the path they need will be created for them," Marin responded.

It is important that social and healthcare professionals look holistically at all of the problems people are suffering from, Marin said, adding that mental health problems are often caused by substance abuse.

"I would also like to remind you that the Greens are a governing party," Marin said, inferring that she did not appreciate what she considered to be the Green Party interim leader trying to score political points at the expense of her coalition partners.