The election comes just days after Türkiye approved the Nordic nation's bid to join NATO, but its main proponent and Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin faces a tough challenge in her bid for a second term.
Finns began voting on Sunday in legislative elections that could see the country take a dramatic turn to the right, as centre-right and anti-immigration parties vie to unseat Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
After the breakthrough by nationalists in neighbouring Sweden and the far-right's victory in Italy last year, Finland could become the latest country to join the nationalist wave in Europe.
Over 2,400 candidates from 22 parties were vying for the 200 seats in the Nordic country's parliament, the Eduskunta.
The elections come days after Türkiye's parliament approved the Nordic country's bid to join NATO. On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the accession protocol into law, confirming all necessary ratifications from NATO members for Finland to accede to the US-led military alliance.
READ MORE: Türkiye Parliament ratifies Finland's NATO membership
Marin, who at age 37 is one of Europe’s youngest leaders, has received praise for her Cabinet’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and for her prominent role, along with President Sauli Niinisto, in advocating for Finland’s successful application to join NATO.
Her vocal support of Ukraine in the last year has increased her international visibility.
“Of course, we hope that the Social Democrats will win this election ... It’s so important because we want to stay an open society. We also want to work together internationally. We want to build a better green sustainable future where people have the same opportunities in life,” Marin told the Associated Press news agency while campaigning Saturday in central Helsinki.
Marin remains popular at home,e but her party’s views on the Finnish economy, which emerged as the main campaign theme, were being challenged by two main opponents: the centre-right National Coalition Party led by Petteri Orpo and the right-wing populist The Finns party, which is led by Riikka Purra.
“We have done a great campaign. We have the best candidates all over Finland and we are first in polls, so I’m optimistic,” National Coalition party leader Orpo said ahead of the vote.
The party that comes out on top traditionally inherits the post of prime minister, provided they can form a majority in parliament.
According to the latest survey published by public broadcaster Yle, Orpo’s National Coalition has a thin lead at 19.8 percent.
The nationalist eurosceptic Finns Party, led by Riikka Purra, polled 19.5 percent.
The Social Democrats led by current Prime Minister Sanna Marin, took third place at 18.7 percent.
“I want to fix our economy. I want to boost economic growth”, Orpo said, adding that Marin “is not worried about the economy. She is not worried about debt”.
Finland’s debt-to-GDP ratio has risen from 64 percent in 2019 to 73 percent, which the National Coalition wants to address by cutting spending by six billion euros ($6.5 billion).
“I am very proud because Kokoomus my party was the first one and the only party in Finland supporting NATO for 20 years and today we are almost there,” Orpo said.
READ MORE: “What’s next for Finland’s NATO membership?