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Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin gets ousted by conservatives in a tight election

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks to members of the international media following the Finnish parliamentary elections on Sunday in Helsinki.
Jonathan Nackstrand
/
AFP via Getty Images
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks to members of the international media following the Finnish parliamentary elections on Sunday in Helsinki.

Updated April 3, 2023 at 8:49 AM ET

Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin narrowly lost a bid to stay in power on Sunday as her party came up less than a percentage point short in a national election.

The center-right National Coalition Party (NCP) headed by Petteri Orpo eked out a victory with 20.8% of the vote. The Finns, the country's right-wing populist party, won 20.1% of the vote. And Marin's party, the center-left Social Democrats (SDP), garnered just 19.9%.

With such closely split results, the NCP will look to assemble a coalition government, which will likely take weeks of political maneuvering. More than 2,400 candidates across 22 parties ran for a seat in Finland's parliament, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

The SDP grew out of favor as inflation surged, the national debt grew and opposition leaders accused the SDP of excessive government spending. But Marin's personal popularity remained high throughout her tenure.

"This is a great day because we did well in this election," she said in her concession speech Sunday. "This celebration of democracy is always a glorious thing."

Marin was the world's youngest head of state when she took office in 2019 at age 34, and she often drew political popularity for taking a sharp stance against the sexism she faced during her time in office.

Marin apologized and took a drug test after videos of her partying sparked questions about her maturity. Finnish women defended her right to cut loose, posting their own videos of dancing and drinking across social media.

Internationally, Marin received praise for successfully advocating for Finland to join NATO and for her outspoken criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.

The country's likely new prime minister pledged that support for Kyiv would remain strong.

"First to Ukraine: we stand by you, with you," Orpo told the Associated Press during a victory event. "We cannot accept this terrible war. And we will do all that is needed to help Ukraine, Ukrainian people because they fight for us. This is clear."

Orpo, Finland's former finance minister, said he was open to "negotiating with all parties," according reporters at a victory event.

With the three major parties largely aligned over Finland's NATO bid and position on Ukraine, the shape of a successful NCP-led government will depend on whether Orpo can work with The Finns, a newer, far-right group that ran on anti-immigration, anti-European Union stances.

He may instead choose to build a "blue-red" alliance with the SDP and its allies, teaming up with the party whose economic policies he attacked throughout the campaign.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.