On 14 April voters will choose a new parliament and government in Finland, with 200 MPs to be elected.
The current three-party government coalition is led by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's Centre Party, with the National Coalition Party (NCP) and the Blue Reform party also holding ministerial posts in the cabinet. Those parties currently control 104 of the 200 seats in the Finnish parliament.
This is a thin majority for a country used to relatively broad-based coalitions; the previous government elected in 2011 included six of the then-eight parties in parliament. The electorate is divided into 15 regional constituencies that each elect MPs using a proportional system.
Sipilä's three-party coalition has been more ideologically coherent, with market-based reforms and austerity dominating the agenda. The Sipilä government took office in 2015 pledging four billion euros in annual spending cuts, and ended up cutting education and social security budgets while forcing through an increase in working time for most employees.
The April election could see a big shift in policy if Sipilä and his Centre Party do not do well enough for him to continue as premier.
What are the issues?
The government’s controversial and unfinished reform of health and social care (‘sote’) is one of the biggest issues facing the country, but few voters fully understand it.
A spate of recent scandals about standards at care homes has pushed that issue to the top of the political agenda, ensuring that parties are now discussing tightening the rules for operators of facilities for the elderly.
After recent alarming news about climate change, the Green Party is framing this year's vote as the last chance to save the world, hoping for a ‘climate election’. The nationalist Finns Party meanwhile is pushing to make immigration a central theme of the election campaign, especially after a series of sexual abuse cases in Oulu in which the suspects were asylum seekers or immigrants.
You can explore candidates approach to these and other issues with the help of Yle's election compass, which is available in English.
Who’s likely to win?
The Social Democrats have been leading the polls and hope to emerge from the election as the biggest party.
The party that wins the most MPs in the 200-member parliament gets the opportunity to form a government. To do that it will need to form a coalition with other parties commanding at least 101 MPs between them.
If they get the mandate to negotiate, the SDP is likely to look to the Green Party as a potential coalition partner, as well as the Left Alliance. Those three parties have been consistent critics of the current government’s austerity budgets and labour market reforms.
The Greens have been pushing to break into the ‘big three’ of Finnish politics (the NCP, SDP and Centre), as their poll numbers rose after the last election before dipping again. They recently changed leader, electing former presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto to replace Touko Aalto, after Aalto took extended sick leave.
Those parties are unlikely to constitute a majority, however, so the NCP or Centre Party may be asked to join the new administration along with a smaller party like the Swedish People's Party or Christian Democratic Party, or even the Blue Reform party that split from the Finns Party in 2017.The winning parties are likely to face tough choices in creating a working coalition, however, as the electoral arithmetic might not throw up an obvious, ideologically-coherent combination.
What about President Niinistö?
Finland’s popular president Sauli Niinistö, who brought together Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin last year, is not up for re-election having won a second term in 2018. His role is in foreign policy and diplomacy, as the president acts as a figurehead rather than getting his or her hands dirty in domestic politics.
It is unlikely any coalition government would have big disagreements with Niinistö, who has been president since 2012 and was formerly a member of the National Coalition party.
What happens next?
Coalition negotiations can drag on: In 2011 it took more than two months from election to confirmation of Jyrki Katainen as Prime Minister.
Horsetrading and political wrangling aside, it's a big year for elections in Finland. New MEPs are due to be elected on 26 May, and new regional assemblies may (or may not) be elected as part of the troubled ‘sote’ reform.
A recent economic upswing might well run out of steam in the coming years, leaving the incoming administration less room to manoeuvre than they might like.
A really simple guide to the main parties
- The Centre Party is a centrist party that enjoys strong voter support in the countryside. It has liberal and traditionalist wings.
- The centre-right National Coalition is an economically liberal party that is popular in cities and among higher-income groups.
- The Blue Reform split from the Finns Party after a hardliner took over as party chair in June 2017. The coalition partners objected and kicked the Finns Party out of government, but eventually accepted the Blue Reform ministers and MPs who broke with the Finns Party back into the coalition.
- The Finns Party is a right-wing populist party that is opposed to immigration and the EU.
- The Social Democratic Party is a centre-left party with strong links to Finland's trade unions.
- The Green Party is an environment-focused party founded in the 1970s with a growing supporter base among young, urban voters.
- The Left Alliance is a left-wing group with roots in the Communist party and strong links to the labour movement.
- The Swedish People's Party is a liberal party advocating for Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority.
- The Christian Democrat Party is a small, socially conservative party with links to Christian religious groups.