May 8, 2019 / 8:53 AM / 5 months ago

Finland's Social Democrats aim to form center-left coalition government

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland’s Social Democrats said on Wednesday they would seek a center-left governing coalition with the Centre Party and three smaller partners following a parliamentary election last month.

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Juha Sipila of Finland attends a news conference in Riga, Latvia, March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

The Social Democrats (SDP) came out on top in the April 14 election for the first time in 20 yeas but with a record low 17.7 percent of the vote, forcing them to ally with other parties to form a government.

SDP chairman Antti Rinne said he would work on forming a coalition with outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party as his main partner, while other partners would be the Greens, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People’s Party.

If Rinne secures the coalition behind a joint program, he would steer Finland a step leftward after Sipila’s center-right government, which included the right-leaning National Coalition.

He would also succeed in keeping the nationalist, eurosceptic Finns Party, which came second in the election at 17.5 percent, only 0.2 percent behind the SDP, out of the government despite a rapid growth in their popularity.

The Finns Party made rapid gains in the polls ahead of the elections and scored first with 18.7 percent in the first post-election survey by Finland’s largest daily Helsingin Sanomat on Monday.

Rinne said his five-party coalition would hold 117 seats in the 200-seat parliament.

“If we succeed in our government talks to draft a program that satisfies this team, it means we’ll have a clear majority government emerging in Finland,” he told reporters.

The Centre Party came fourth in the election with 13.8 percent, a 100-year low. But Rinne, a former union boss, said he believed it would be easier to agree a joint program with the party than with the pro-austerity National Coalition.

In his election campaign, Rinne promised tax hikes to preserve Finland’s vast public welfare state, while the National Coalition sought to lower taxes to stimulate the economy.

The National Coalition’s chairman and Finland’s outgoing finance minister Petteri Orpo said he understood Rinne’s choice.

Orpo said his party’s views on “the economy, employment and fiscal policy...were decidedly far from how (Rinne) sees this ensemble,” he said.

But finding common ground with Sipila, who as premier wanted to cut costs and debt, is unlikely to prove easy for Rinne.

Rinne said he hoped to conclude talks by May 24 and have the government nominated in the first days of June, ahead of Finland’s EU presidency that begins July 1.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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