Finland's Social Democrats party seals narrow election win

  • Finland's Social Democrats party seals narrow election win

Finland's Social Democrats party seals narrow election win

Finland's leftist Social Democrats won a razor-thin victory in Sunday's general election, holding off the far-right Finns Party which surged on an anti-immigration agenda.

As part of his anti-austerity manifesto, Social Democrat leader Rinne, a 56-year-old former trade union boss, has pledged to improve conditions for Finland's elderly with a €100 monthly pension boost for retirees on low incomes.

The Finns Party more than doubled its seats to 39.

One of the more likely outcomes appears to be a six-seat majority government formed by the Social Democrats, National Coalition, Green League and Swedish People's Party.

Outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila said his Centre Party was the election's "biggest loser", blaming the "difficult economic decisions" his administration made in an attempt to rebalance the economy after a long slump.

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Petteri Orpo, leader of the conservative National Coalition Party and co-architect of the government´s savings programme, has denounced the Social Democratic Party´s anti-austerity plans as "irresponsible".

About 36 percent of voting-age Finns cast their votes in a seven-day advance voting period that ended on Tuesday.

Tipped to win, the opposition Social Democrats scored 17.7 percent, winning 40 seats in the 200-seat parliament, while their eurosceptic Finns Party rivals were at 17.5 percent - 38 seats - after Sunday's election.

With the European Parliament election less than two months away, the Finnish ballot is being watched in Brussels.

The Finns Party has seen a surge in support in recent months, urging people to "Vote for some borders" and pledging to reduce Finland's asylum intake to "almost zero".

At a Finns Party rally on the eve of the vote in Myyrmaki, a disadvantaged suburb of the capital, a crowd of people, young and old, clamoured around party leader Jussi Halla-aho, asking for autographs and congratulating him on the campaign.

The Finns party's stance on environmental policies, which includes an opposition to a proposed tax on meat consumption, appeals to rural voters in particular who fear soaring fuel costs and resent any efforts to change what they see as the traditional Finnish way of life. "Negotiations for a new government will be very tough and very hard", Social Democrat supporter Mikko Heinikoski, 37, said.

"For the first time since 1999 we are the largest party in Finland ..."

Finland has a rapidly ageing population and declining birth rate, and the question of how to keep funding the country´s generous welfare state has been a key election battleground. Immigration became a hot election topic despite Finland being western Europe's most homogenous country with a foreign-born population of just 6.6 percent. Polls close at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) with all votes expected to be counted by midnight.