Voting begins in Finland as leftist party poised to win

A man casts his vote for the parliamentary elections in Helsinki Finland

Chairman of the Finnish Social Democratic Party Antti Rinne and his wife Heta Ravolainen-Rinnes attend the election party in Helsinki, Finland April 14, 2019.

Right behind came the populist Finns Party with 17.5 per cent, while the conservative National Coalition party took the third spot with 17 per cent of votes.

The latest opinion polls had indicated that the Social Democrats stood an excellent chance of becoming the country's largest party, thus securing the post of Prime Minister, although it was widely recognised that they would obtain less than 20 per cent of the vote. Mr Rinne said it would be hard to work with the Finns Party.

Underscoring the growing confidence among far-right politicians in Europe, anti-immigration parties have announced plans to join forces following the May 26 European Union election, in a move that could give them major say in how the continent is run.

Aware the public mood has turned against any further belt-tightening, the Center Party of incumbent Prime Minister Juha Sipila and his center-right governing partner the National Coalition Party have insisted the economy is now strong enough to allow for an easing of austerity.

The election followed a campaign in which concerns about climate change even overshadowed the issue of how to reform the nation's generous welfare model. The eurosceptics won 39 after campaigning on the message that the Finnish government should overdo its efforts to combat climate change.

In the parliament resulting from the 2015 legislative vote, the Center Party had held 49 seats after garnering more than 21 percent of the vote.

Some 36 percent of eligible voters have already cast their ballot in advance, choosing between 2,500 candidates from 19 political parties and movements for the Eduskunta legislature's 200 seats.

Social Democratic leader Antti Rinne told reporters after voting Sunday in a municipality north of Finland's capital of Helsinki: "I have not closed out the Finns Party".

More than 1.5 million people - 34.5 per cent of the total - voted in advance of the parliamentary elections on Sunday under a system put in place in 1970 to encourage participation.

Mr Rinne, a 56-year-old former union leader, said:"For the first time in a long time, Social Democrats are the largest party".

"We want a more moderate and sensible climate policy that does not chase industries away from Finland to countries like China", Halla-aho said Sunday at a Helsinki polling station.

Many parties back actions to fight global warming. The polls had the Finns Party coming in second or third with 15%-16% of the vote. "The future is a big question for us, all this climate changing, education systems reforming. all kind of things are very important" to Finland's people, he said.

Finland is boosting its nuclear energy production by launching a new plant next year and lawmakers last month voted to completely phase out burning coal by 2029.

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