Centre-left wins one at last

After an extremely bad couple of years for the centre-left (worldwide, but especially in Europe), it can chalk up a success in Sunday’s election in Finland. (See my preview here.) But it was less than fully convincing.

The Social Democrats finished at the head of the field, with 17.7% of the vote and 40 of the 200 seats. That’s up 1.2% and six seats from last time, but it’s less than the opinion polls were tipping and only one seat clear of the far-right True Finns (17.5% and 39 seats) – and two clear of the centre-right National Coalition (17.0% and 38 seats).

Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne is quoted today saying “I have to make a honest confession: I hoped still for a better result.”

The True Finns were virtually unchanged from 2015; down 0.2% of the vote and up one seat. But that didn’t stop the BBC giving them the lead in its (since modified) report. The rise of the far right is a real problem, but I don’t think it’s helped by the media constantly exaggerating its extent.

As expected, the big losers were the incumbent Centre Party, who dropped to 13.8% and 31 seats (down 7.3% and 18 seats). The Greens did well, but failed to break into the top four, finishing with 11.5% and 20 seats (up 3.0% and five seats). The same three minor parties filled out the rest of the card, in the same order as last time.

So the three parties that formed government after the last election (Centre, True Finns and National Coalition) again have a majority between them, with 108 seats. But there seems little chance of them teaming up again: the True Finns were evicted from the coalition two years ago after their turn to the far right, and there is no sign that the others would want them back.

More likely is a government based on the centre-left, although it will not be easy to construct. Social Democrats, Greens and the Swedish People’s Party have 69 seats between them; if they could draw in the National Coalition Party, that would give them a majority. Otherwise they are well short, even with Left Alliance (16 seats) or the Christian Democrats (five).

Finland has a long history of ideologically broad, consensus-based governments. This time, the voters have delivered a parliament that will make that less a choice than a necessity.

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