April 19, 2015 / 4:00 AM / 4 years ago

Finns vote, likely to pick opposition to revive sagging economy

HELSINKI, April 19 (Reuters) - Finns are tipped to oust a pro-European and pro-NATO prime minister in elections on Sunday and put in power an opposition coalition that may include Eurosceptic nationalists to revive a sagging economy.

Opposition Centre Party leader Juha Sipila, who has backing of the urban middle class and rural conservatives, is tipped to become prime minister of the euro zone country, succeeding Alexander Stubb of the centre-right National Coalition Party.

Sipila says he is open to including the Finns party, formerly known as True Finns, in a coalition even though they could complicate ties with Europe because they oppose bailouts and want to kick Greece out of the euro zone.

Stubb, who favours NATO membership for Finland, has led a quarrelsome left-right coalition widely blamed for failing to revive the economy and curb public debt growth after three years of recession.

The economy has been hit by weak private consumption and turbulence in neighbouring Russia, a major trading partner.

According to the finance ministry, Finnish economy is expected to grow just 0.5 percent in 2015. The new coalition is expected to cut public spending and carry out difficult structural reforms to rein in debt on the face of ageing population.

On Thursday, an opinion poll by public broadcaster YLE showed the Centre Party leading with around 24 percent of the vote. National Coalition and The Finns scored about 17 percent each.

The centre-left Social Democrats, a partner in Stubb’s government, trailed with around 15 percent of the votes, but more than 40 percent of those polled were undecided.

With a tradition of having majority coalitions, Finland’s next government will probably include the Centre Party and two of the three runners-up. But the election is likely to open up several possible combinations, which means government talks could last several weeks.

While all the major parties pledge some type of austerity and structural reforms, there are differences as to whether the focus is on shrinking the welfare state, boosting investment or cutting red tape.

Greece could be a sticking point in government negotiations. But no matter who sits in the next coalition, it is unlikely that Finnish voters would extend any more concessions to Greece now that they are themselves facing painful austerity.

Exit polls are due after 1800 GMT and final results are likely around 2100 GMT. (Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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