The leader of the center-right won the general elections in Finland on Sunday and must replace outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin, after a very tight ballot where the nationalists, who could enter the government, reached a record.
"It's a big victory," said Petteri Orpo, a 53-year-old former minister, to the cheers of his supporters.
"We are going to start negotiations for a government in Finland," said the man who now has the possibility of forging an alliance to the left with Ms. Marin or with the anti-immigration and eurosceptic Finns party of Riikka Purra.
According to almost final results with more than 98% of the vote, the National Coalition party comes first with 48 of the 200 seats in Parliament, ahead of the Finns party (46) and the Social Democrats (43).
Despite progress from the 2019 elections, Sanna Marin admitted defeat.
"Congratulations to the winner of the elections, congratulations to the National Coalition, congratulations to the party of Finns, democracy has spoken," she said.
The party candidate who arrives first traditionally inherits the post of Prime Minister in Finland, provided that he can muster a majority in Parliament.
The differences in votes are just as tenuous: 20.8% for the center-right, 20.1% for the far right, and 19.9% for Ms. Marin's SDP.
Greeted with cries of "Finland! Finland!", Riikka Purra congratulated herself in front of her supporters on the "best electoral result" in the history of the nationalist party.
The 45-year-old nationalist leader even offered herself the luxury of winning the largest number of votes for her name, with around 38,000 against 35,000 for the popular Sanna Marin.
Petteri Orpo had led the race in the polls during the campaign before seeing his lead melt away in the final sprint.
The three parties are progressing from the last elections in 2019, in a three-way battle that has eclipsed the results of the other parties.
Established for more than 20 years in Finnish political life, the far right broke its record of 19.05% dating back to 2011, in the wake of the populist wave that has crossed Europe in recent years.
"We don't have a far-right party in Finland," Mr. Orpo assured the foreign press, however, when an alliance with the nationalists is considered likely.
These legislative elections in the country of 5.5 million inhabitants coincide with the official entry of the country bordering Russia into NATO, expected in the coming days.
Popular abroad as in Finland, Sanna Marin has established herself as a "rock star Prime Minister" but she is more divided in her country, where she has been criticized on public finances and inflation.
Men are overrepresented in the right-wing electorate, while women vote more to the left and for Ms. Marin.
The youngest head of government in the world when she came to power at the end of 2019, she was hailed for her good management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the process of joining NATO, and for her positions against the neighboring Russia.
"She made us proud, before people laughed at us, we were an old school party," said Mo Shimer, a 26-year-old SDP activist.
The economy has been the main angle of attack for the opposition, which denounces in particular the rise in public debt. The extreme right has campaigned on juvenile delinquency, linked according to it to immigration.
"I felt I had to come and vote because rock star Marin's time is running out, she hasn't done anything good," Antti Piispanen, a 30-year-old salesperson, told AFP after putting his ballot in the ballot box.
The formation of a government traditionally takes several weeks or even months.
Ms. Marin should therefore act as interim next week when Finland officially joins NATO.
The election does not change anything from the point of view of the military alliance: all the major parties, including the Finns, are now in favor of it since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
02/04/2023 22:58:10 - Helsinki (AFP) - © 2023 AFP