HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s main opposition party, the centre-right National Coalition, outperformed the ruling centre-left coalition in a midterm regional election, while the nationalist Finns Party took a beating, official results showed on Monday.
The result of the first ever such regional vote will not affect the composition of the government, but it is a sign of the strength of the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections due in April 2023.
The National Coalition won with 21.6% of the vote, up from 17% at the last parliamentary election in 2019, while current Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats came second with 19.3%, also up from 17.7% in 2019.
“The margin was very strong ahead of the next time,” the National Coalition’s head Petteri Orpo said, referring to next year’s parliamentary elections.
The nationalist Finns took the heaviest blow as their share of Sunday’s vote crumbled to 11.1% from 14.5% at municipal elections last year and 17.9% at the parliamentary elections in 2019, when they came second behind the Social Democrats.
It was the Finns Party’s first election under new leader Riikka Purra, who blamed their loss on the low voter turnout, which stood at 47.5% nationally.
The Social Democrats were followed closely by their largest ally in the five-party ruling coalition, the Centre Party, which came third with 19.2% of the vote, up from 13.8% at the last parliamentary election.
The regional election was organised after long-awaited healthcare reforms were approved, in order to choose representatives for Finland’s new social and healthcare regions which will take over the corresponding services from the start of 2023.
Until now, Finland’s social and healthcare services have been organised by municipality – nearly 300 of them in all. Following the reforms they will be handled by 21 regions covering the nation of 5.5 million people.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Hugh Lawson)