peteri orpo | consensus builder

Illustration: Sreejith R. Youth

Finland all ready To get a new prime minister. In the elections held on 2 April, the centre-right National Alliance Party (NCP) topped with 20.8% vote share and 48 out of 200 parliamentary seats. The far-right anti-immigration Finns party came second with 20.1% of the vote and 46 seats, while the Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, came third with 19.9% ​​of the vote and 43 seats.

Finland It has a political convention that the single largest party gets the first chance to form the government. With the NCP emerging as the single largest, it will attempt to form a coalition government under the leadership of 53-year-old Peteri Orpo. If Mr. Orpo is successful, he could be Finland’s next prime minister.

The debate on the economy dominated the elections. Mr. Orpo led a powerful campaign against the social democratic policies of the left-leaning Ms. Marin. With Finland’s economy yet to recover from the shock of the pandemic, Ms Marin called for investment in job creation by raising taxes on the wealthy. But Mr. Orpo, a self-styled fiscal conservative, played on Finnish fears about rising public debt, which has soared to 70% of gross domestic product since Ms. Marin became prime minister in 2019. He campaigned to reduce the government debt, cut spending and revive the economy with lower income tax rates.

Given these sharply opposite approaches to economic policy, an alliance between the NCP and the Social Democrats looks unlikely. As chief negotiator Mr Orpo is expected to hold talks with the Finns party first. But here, too, he will have to iron out sharp differences between the two parties over immigration. While the NCP supports immigration to address the labor shortage, the Finns party wants stricter limits.

Relatively low profile compared to the more flamboyant Ms. Marin, Mr. Orpo comes from a political family, his father also a member of the NCP. A post-graduate in political science, he has built a steady career in public life, serving as interior minister, finance minister and deputy prime minister to other, more popular leaders. Known as the consensus builder behind the scenes, he led a rebellion in May 2016 to oust the then NCP president and finance minister Alexander Staub, and replaced him as finance minister in June 2016. Under his leadership, NCP has consistently led in poll ratings. From mid 2021.

sick economy

While the ailing economy – which also suffered from lower exports to Russia – has been a major factor in the Social Democrats’ decline in popularity, Mr Orpo also created a narrative about Ms Marin’s lack of seriousness. Leaked videos of Ms Marin’s spirited dance at a private party made their way to social media and became fodder for the opposition. In contrast, Mr. Orpo presented himself as an efficient politician who knew what to do to get the Finnish economy back on track.

On foreign policy, Mr Orpo has declared that there will be no change: Finland, as the latest European nation to join natoWill continue to strongly support Ukraine and oppose Russia in the ongoing war.

It is clear that enough voters have accepted Mr. Orpo’s line that Ms. Marin’s spending on pensions and education was unwise at a time when rising energy costs are straining public finances. But Finland has exercised austerity before. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, who led a centre-right coalition from 2015 to 2019, attempted to revive the economy by reducing Finnish wage costs and cutting the education budget, proving a disaster. But the Finns seem to have forgotten recent history.

With tectonic changes such as war in the neighborhood, joining NATO, and a declining economy, it is perhaps not unexpected that Finns, like voters elsewhere, have turned to a right-wing nationalist leader. If Mr Orpo forms a government with the Finns Party, it would mark a decisive right-wing shift in Finnish politics. At the same time, Ms Marin’s loss is a blow to the European left, which will need to introspect on the failure of its most charismatic politician to communicate effectively with voters.