|If the National Coalition wins in Sunday's election, its leader Jyrki Katainen is likely to seek out multiple alliances [AFP]
Finns have begun to cast their votes in general elections that are set to be a tug-of-war between parties for and against European Union bailouts and marked by the spectacular rise of the once-tiny nationalist and anti-immigration True Finns Party.
Polls opened at 06:00 GMT on Sunday, and will close at 17:00 GMT, with first results expected shortly after closing.
The anti-euro True Finns party is expected to reel off big gains in the election, threatening the pro-European government and raising the risk of disruptions to an EU bailout of Portugal.
Finland, unlike others in the euro zone, can put requests for bailout funds to a majority vote in parliament, meaning that the election outcome is likely to affect EU plans to shore up Portugal and stability in debt markets.
The National Coalition, No 2 party in Finland's current governing coalition, staked out a narrow pre-election lead with around 21 per cent of votes, according to a poll by public broadcaster YLE published on Thursday.
That was not enough to secure a majority in parliament, however, and analysts expect it to seek a multi-party coalition.
Some say it could even work with the True Finns if the populist party won enough votes and backed down from their opposition to EU bailout plans.
Need of alliances
If the National Coalition finishes first in Sunday's election, its leader and current Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen is likely to seek out multiple alliances.
The three other main parties - Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi's Centre party, the True Finns and the opposition Social Democrats - command 15-19 per cent support each.
National Coalition minister Jan Vapaavuori played down on Friday fears of a new anti-euro government, saying any coalition that is formed would support the EU.
The True Finns, he said, would probably tone down its rhetoric as a condition of joining government.
The Social Democrats, who are critical of the bailout plan but supportive of the EU, would be even easier to get on board, he said.
The True Finns have said they have no intention of backing down from their opposition to the bailout plan, but political analysts said the party and its charismatic leader, Timo Soini, would probably compromise if needed.
A scandal over political funding has hurt the Centre party, and unemployment is also driving voter angst. The economy's recent rebound from the global financial crisis has done little to increase the number of jobs.