Nationalists make big gains in Finland

Finland swings to right while anti-euro True Finns' surge to prominence could threaten eurozone bailout for Portugal.

    Timo Soini, leader of the True Finns party, celebrates the election results [EPA]

    Finland's anti-euro True Finns party has made big gains in parliamentary elections, raising the risk of disruption to an EU bailout of Portugal.

    The centre-right National Coalition Party (NCP), part of the current government and a strong advocate for European integration, will be the biggest party in the new parliament after winning 44 out of 200 seats with a 20.4 per cent share of the vote.

    The results means Jyrki Katainen, NCP's leader and finance minister in the current coalition, will likely be handed the job of forming a new government.

    But the True Finns made the biggest gains in Sunday vote, jumping from six seats to 39 on a 19 per cent share. As the votes were counted, Timo Soini, the leader of the True Finns, said: "This is really good. This is a historic change.''

    Mari Kiviniemi, the outgoing prime minister, said her Centre Party would go into opposition after winning just 15.8 per cent of votes and losing 15 seats.

    "It would appear to be a crushing defeat for us,'' said Kiviniemi, whose party was damaged by a scandal over political funding as well as voter angst over unemployment.

    The result means the nationalist and anti-immigration party True Finns could be invited to join an NCP coalition, with a new government expected to be in place by mid-May.

    "We can cooperate with any party, as long as the election results and a government programme make it possible," said Katainen on Sunday.

    But the possible inclusion of True Finns could have far-reaching consequences for the entire eurozone.

    Finland can put requests for bailout funds to a majority vote in parliament, meaning that the election outcome may affect EU plans to shore up Portugal and stability in debt markets.

    "The package that is there. I do not believe it will remain," Soini told public broadcaster YLE, referring to the bailout.

    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 Soini would probably compromise if needed.

    Jan Vapaavuori, an NCP minister, played down fears of a new anti-euro government ahead of the election, 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.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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