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Finland's leftists lead with half of votes counted

AFP  |  Helsinki 

Early results in Finland's on Sunday showed a lead for the leftist Social Democrats, while the current said his was the night's "biggest loser".

The were credited with 18.9 per cent of votes after 47.3 per cent of ballots were counted, ahead of the conservative at 16.6 per cent.

The Social Democrats, led by 56-year-old former trade union boss Antti Rinne, campaigned against the steep cost-cutting of and his -- of the conservative Party.

"For the first time in a long, long time the are in first place," Rinne told reporters at the

A first-place spot would put the at the of the government for the first time in 16 years.

The right-wing was almost neck-and-neck in third place with PM Sipila's Centre Party, at around 15 per cent.

The Finns Party, led by hardline MEP Halla-aho, has seen a surge in support in recent months during an anti-immigration dominated campaign, urging people to "Vote for some borders".

If the party remains in third place it could hold significant influence in the talks to form the next government, which in is typically a coalition of three or four parties.

The final results were expected before 11:00 pm (2000 GMT).

The heated debate during the campaign -- over welfare, immigration and climate change -- led some analysts to predict that turnout would be high.

One predicted the high advance turnout and tight poll margins would make this "the liveliest election of the 2000s".

Voter turnout looked set to come in around 72 percent, higher than the 70.1 per cent who voted in 2015.

The current government's cuts to Finland's prized education system, and a tightening of unemployment benefit criteria, provoked loud and widespread public opposition.

If the Social Democrats lead were confirmed, Rinne would be tasked with building a majority coalition. But he refused to speculate Sunday as to whether he would agree to form a government with the conservative

Rinne has been a staunch opponent of the National Coalition's austerity policies over the past four years.

Petteri Orpo, of the conservative and of the government's savings programme, has denounced the Social Democratic Party's anti-austerity plans as "irresponsible".

However, in a tacit acknowledgement that the public mood is against further belt-tightening, Orpo has insisted that the economy is now strong enough to allow for some more generous public spending.

Opinion polls had suggested the Social Democrats' lead had narrowed in recent weeks to as little as two points, ahead of the National Coalition and

Some blamed the shrinking lead on the inability of Rinne to attract large numbers of new, younger voters.

The growing ratings, on the other hand, appear to be driven by new supporters who have not voted in the past.

The anti-immigration Finns Party also decries the "climate hysteria" of other parties seeking action against global warming.

Finns Halla-aho has sought to dispel accusations that he hopes to keep his party in opposition after the election, so as to avoid facing the tough decisions of being in power.

On Sunday he said his party was open to being in a coalition "but not at any cost". The Finns Party does have previous experience of being in government, when they became the second-largest party in the 2015 election. But that led to the group splitting acrimoniously when its popularity spiralled following unpopular compromises on immigration and EU bailouts.

The hardline faction, led by Halla-aho, went into opposition in 2017, and the party took a further lurch to the right.

The other major parties have all expressed strong reservations about joining a government with the Finns Party, although few have ruled it out entirely.

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.

Yet the may face tough economic conditions in which to implement its anti-austerity promises: many economic forecasts suggest Finland's GDP growth will slow in the coming years.

Immigration became a hot election topic following outrage in January over highly publicised reports of an alleged string of sexual assaults by immigrant men. The incidents boosted support for the Finns Party's anti-immigration agenda.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, April 15 2019. 00:55 IST