The Conservatives are more open to Nato membership, but are not pushing the issue because of strong opposition to it in a country that shares a 1,300km border with Russia.

 

Raimo Vayrynen, director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said party leaders appear to have "some kind of tacit agreement" not to discuss possible Nato membership.

 

"They have been reading the situation in the manner that you rather lose than win votes if you take up the Nato option," he said.

 

Narrow defeat

 

In the previous election in 2003, the Centre Party narrowly defeated the Social Democrats to take the top spot, and it has maintained its lead.

 

A poll released on Friday indicated the Centre Party had 24.7-per cent support - unchanged from the 2003 election result - while the Social Democrats had fallen to 21.3 per cent, from 24.5 per cent four years earlier.

 

The Conservative Party, which managed to win 18.6 per cent in the last election, was up at 20.4-per cent support, according to Friday's survey.

 

Finland, home to the world's largest mobile phone maker, Nokia, has a booming economy and an extensive welfare state. Its main political parties differ little on substance, with broad agreement on foreign and domestic policies.

 

Some 4.3 million people are eligible to cast ballots in Sunday's vote, which falls on the 100th anniversary of Finland's first elections in 1907, the same year that it gave women the right to vote and to stand for election - the first country in the world to do so.