Finnish Parliamentary Elections and the Left Alliance

The conservative National Coalition Party has emerged victorious in Finland’s tightly fought general election. The far-right populist party The Finns achieved its best result to date, placing second. Despite gains, the Social Democrats could only manage third place.

For the first time in Finnish history, the three largest parties all improved their results. The liberal-conservative National Coalition (NCP) became the strongest party with 20.8%, closely followed by the right-wing populist Finns Party, which had its best election result with 20.1% and won 46 seats in the Finnish Parliament. The Finns Party gained support especially in small towns and in the countryside around the big cities. This was seen as a revival of the regions, which have been hit hard by rising electricity and fuel prices.

The Social Democrats (SDP), with the most popular prime minister in Finland this century – Sanna Marin – came third (19.9%) despite their gains. This was the first time since 2003 and one of the few times that the Prime Minister’s party has increased its support in elections. Nevertheless, its participation in the coalition is uncertain.

All three medium-sized parties suffered defeats. The agrarian Centre Party received just over 11% and lost 8 of its 23 seats in parliament. This was the worst result for one of the main parties in Finnish history since 1916. The Greens garnered 7.0% and 13 MPs (-7) and the Left Alliance 7.1% and 11 MPs. This was the worst result in the history of the Left Alliance. The party lost 5 seats in the Finnish Parliament and now holds 11 out of a total of 200.

The situation for the three small parties in the Finnish Parliament remained unchanged: the Swedish People’s Party gained 4.3% and 10 MPs (including one MP from the autonomous Åland Islands, who is a member of the Swedish Party Caucus), the Christian Democrats 3.9% and 5 MPs, and the right-wing populist Movement Now 2.3% and one MP. Among the parties outside parliament, the Communist Party received 0.1% of the vote, the Animal Rights Party 0.1%, and various small far-right parties 1.6%.

Tough situation for the Left Alliance

The election result was tight, but only slightly worse than in 2015, when the party received 7.2% and 12 MPs. Even the successful period in a left-green coalition government, during which the Left Alliance was able to implement its goals and was seen as a reliable coalition partner, could do little to change the low result.

Opinion polls conducted shortly before the election did not indicate a loss of votes either; the predictions were even higher than the 2019 election result (8.2%). But also in 2019 and 2015, the pre-election polls predicted a higher result than was actually achieved.

The result was particularly bad for the Left Alliance in terms of MPs, as the party had won seats by a small margin in 2019 and now lost them by a similar margin. The Left Alliance now has three seats in Helsinki and three seats in the whole of Northern and Central Finland, compared to three seats in Helsinki and six seats in Northern and Central Finland before the elections. One of the main consequences of this election result for the Left Alliance will be the loss of around 900,000 euros per year, which represents around 25% of the party’s total budget. On the other hand, the Left Alliance has gained more than 1,700 new members in less than a month (before the elections the number was around 11,000).

The Left Alliance lost mainly in its traditional strongholds in the north and in the industrial cities. For the first time, the Left Alliance’s best district was Helsinki, where it won 11.8% and three MPs, while in traditionally strong Lapland it won only 9.9% and no MPs. Lapland now has only six MPs (one less than in 2019 due to population decline), of whom two are from the Centre Party, two from the Finns Party, one from the SDP and one from the CPN. In 2007 the Left Alliance had MPs from Lapland, but only one from Helsinki. The Left Alliance also did well in other university towns.

As the public discourse in the election campaign was mainly about who would be the next prime minister, the Left Alliance lost to the Social Democrats due to tactical voting behaviour. The coalition party may also have benefited from Green voters who wanted to prevent the Finns Party from becoming the largest party.

Candidates’ demographic characteristics

The Finnish electoral system is based on twelve closed multi-mandate constituencies and one single-mandate constituency. Voters cast their votes for a candidate in the constituency that counts for the candidate’s party.

The parties therefore try to put together a representative group of candidates, based on demographic analyses, such as gender and age distribution.

In the case of the Left Alliance, 71.7% of the votes went to women, the highest result so far. About half of the Left Alliance candidates were women. In 2019, female candidates received 63.4% of the votes, while in 2011 only 46.1% of the votes were cast for female Left Alliance candidates.

Only the Green Party had more female candidates (73.5%). This was also the first election in which female candidates in general received almost as many votes (49.96%) as male candidates.

This electoral cycle also saw a clear trend towards younger candidates: in the Left Alliance, candidates under the age of 45 won 73.1% of the vote, a slight increase of about 7.5% from 2015. The Left Alliance MPs are younger than before, with a narrow age range between 34 and 47. The first two Left Alliance MPs born after 1970 were elected in 2007, compared to the current situation – where the Left Alliance MPs in parliament were born after 1975. For the first time, the Left Alliance parliamentary group is the youngest in the Finnish Parliament.

It is also interesting to note how the party candidates’ attitudes towards NATO membership affected the outcome of their votes: Three Left Alliance MPs who voted against Finland’s NATO membership lost their parliamentary seats. One of the Finns Party MPs who voted against NATO membership also lost his seat. Of the seven Left Alliance MPs who voted against NATO membership, only three remain in the new Parliament (one resigned voluntarily).

Difficult coalition negotiations

With the top three parties each getting around 20% of the vote, no party is in a position to form a government on its own. However, based on the election results and the fact that it got the biggest mandate, NCP has initiated government negotiations by sending 24 questions to other parties. Before 1 May, the parties will hold mutual talks on cooperation, and the Rally Party will decide in early May which parties it will invite to the government negotiations.

At the moment it seems certain that the Centre Party will not participate in the government, which will make it difficult to form a good majority. A majority government is the goal because minority governments are not common in Finnish political culture – the last time a minority government ruled Finland was in 1977.

The Greens could not easily join the government because of their election losses, and the Left Alliance’s answers to the questions are such that it is very unlikely that the coalition party will include them. Basically, there are two main coalition possibilities: one around the Coalition Party and the Finns, and the other between the Coalition Party and the Social Democrats.

The Coalition Party and the Finns could easily agree on economic policy, but the problems lie in the areas of migration, climate change and the EU – all issues on which the Finns have different views from all the other parties. Between the Coalition Party and the Social Democrats, the problem would be economic policy, where the Coalition Party is committed to budget cuts, but apart from this there would be no other significant conflicts in this coalition scenario.

An additional issue is that both coalitions would only have 94 and 91 MPs out of the required 101, so smaller parties would be needed. Christian Democrats have not set any conditions for joining the government, but their 5 MPs are still not enough.  The decisive role is played by the Swedish party, which has both liberal and conservative wings and is clearly pro-migration and pro-EU. The leader of the Finns Party has announced that, with the responses given by the Swedish Party, it cannot participate in the same government with the Finns. Several leading figures in the Swedish party have also stated that they cannot support cooperation with the Finns Party.

At the moment the prognosis is that the first option will be a government around the Coalition Party and the Finns, but this may fail and leave room for the Coalition Party to cooperate with the Social Democrats.

But we can be sure that the next four years will bring about a fundamentally different, socially colder government. Finland’s likely new conservative prime minister, Petteri Orpo, leader of the nationalist-conservative NCP, pledged in his election campaign to implement austerity policies and to be a clear alternative to the left-wing government.