Finland is voting to determine which coalition can lead the country out of a three-year recession, with the ruling conservatives pitted against their socialist government partner and an anti-immigration Finns Party that wants Greece ousted from the euro.
Conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, who acknowledges his government was slow to enact needed economic reforms, says he wants cut spending by 6 million euros ($6.5 million) if given another four-year mandate to govern.
Such cuts are strongly opposed by the favorite to become the next prime minister, Juha Sipila, a self-effacing millionaire businessman who turned to politics only four years ago. He heads the opposition Center Party, which has enjoyed a clear lead in all recent opinion polls.
Vying for second place are Stubb’s National Coalition Party and its main coalition partner, the Social Democrats, as well as the anti-establishment Finns. Its tough-talking leader, Timo Soini, opposes EU-led bailouts and wants to kick Greece out of the eurozone.
Campaigning for Sunday’s election has been dominated by arguments over unemployment, benefit cuts and the rising national debt, but party leaders appeared unable to agree on a cure. Results are expected Sunday night, but few voters expressed excitement about the outcome.
“Things will get even worse during the next government, whoever is in power. There is no magic wand,” Timo Muinonen, a retired managing director, said after casting his vote in central Helsinki. “I voted, but I don’t think it will help.”
The economic crisis reflects the decline of former cellphone powerhouse Nokia whose innovations inspired a thriving start-up industry, known for such mobile gaming hits as Angry Birds and Clash of Clans. But such successes have been too modest to lift Finland’s export-driven economy, which suffers from the EU’s prevailing economic doldrums and declining trade with its eastern neighbor, sanctions-hit Russia.
The key forestry sector is also facing lower demand for paper products as more publications go digital.
“Right now, we can’t really see a bright future ahead,” said economist Sixten Korkman. “It appears that an excessive pessimism is taking root.”
Sipila, who says that Finland is ready for “a shake-up and brave decisions,” has a good chance to rally support from prospective government partners to form the next coalition government, according to Jan Sundberg, professor of politics at the University of Helsinki.
“I’m quite sure that he could form a Cabinet that seems to be one that can do something,” Sundberg said. “More than the past ones.”