(CNN) As Finland prepares to go to the polls on Sunday, the country’s left-wing prime minister sanna marin he is fighting for his political life.
marin broke the mold becoming the world’s youngest sitting prime minister in 2019 at the age of 34.
He leads the country’s Social Democratic party and heads Finland’s five-party ruling coalition.
Marin worked as a cashier after graduating from high school and was the first member of her family to attend college. She entered politics at the age of 20 and quickly rose through the ranks of the centre-left Social Democratic Party.
Since her rise to power, she has been seen on the world stage as something of a trailblazer, setting an example for progressive leaders around the world.
Her youth and gender have made her stand out from her predecessors, who have mostly been middle-aged men.
Marin and her New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, were quick to shoot down a journalist who asked about the purpose of the first visit to New Zealand by a Finnish prime minister late last year.
“A lot of people will wonder if you two only know each other because you’re a similar age and, you know, you have a lot in common there,” the journalist said during a joint press conference in Auckland. “We are meeting because we are prime ministers,” Marin said in response.
Now, Marín and his social democratic party threaten to be usurped this weekend, with the last survey from Finnish public broadcaster Yle showing that the country is facing a shift to the right.
Petteri Orpo’s right-wing National Coalition Party is the narrow favourite, followed by Riika Purra’s Finnish nationalist party and then Marin’s SDP party.
“The three parties are so close that any one of them could be the leader on Sunday,” Tuomo Turja of pollster Taloustutkimus, which conducted the poll for Yle, told the outlet.
While Marin has been praised internationally for her progressive policies, including on transgender rights, she has faced criticism at home for her coalition’s considerable public spending.
The Marin government has placed importance on financing public services such as health and education to ensure economic growth. But her political rivals accuse her of not controlling the country’s finances.
It comes at a time when Finland is expected to enter a recession this year. According to the Bank of Finland BulletinFinland is facing the kind of problems seen around the world: an energy crisis exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine and a rising cost of living.
Both Orpo and Purra pledged to boost government finances, with Orpo saying his main concern would be tackling the country’s debt, even if it meant cutting social spending such as unemployment benefits, according to Reuters.
Teivo Teivainen, a professor of world politics at the University of Helsinki, explained that while Marin’s generous public spending was arguably necessary during the pandemic, his promises to continue that policy have been cause for concern.
“For his opponents, mostly opponents of his party in general, the main problem is the increase in public spending,” Teivainen told CNN.
“While this can be countered by the claim that in exceptional times of Covid and war, spending was necessary in many ways, his election platform now promises the continuation of relatively high public spending on health, education, elderly care and other wellness issues.
“So your right-wing opponents say this is irresponsible to counter the state’s borrowing.”
Marin faced an internal backlash last year when the images emerged from her dance with friends.
She acknowledged partying “in a boisterous way” after the private videos went viral online, but said she was angry that the images, which drew criticism from political opponents, were leaked to the media.
“These videos are private and were filmed in a private space. It bothers me that they have been released to the public,” Marin told reporters in Kuopio, Finland.
“I spent a night with my friends. We just partyed, also in a boisterous way. I danced and sang,” he said.
The images led some of Marin’s opponents to criticize her behavior as unbecoming of a prime minister. Mikko Karna, an opposition MP, tweeted that Marin should take a drug test, which later came back negative.
Others came out in support of the prime minister, with women from around the world posting videos of themselves dancing on social media, using the hashtag #solidaritywithsanna. His defenders argued that, as a young man, he had the right to enjoy normal activities, such as going to clubs with friends.
It was not the first time that Marin’s private life had been politicized in Finland. She previously apologized to the public in 2021 after a photo of her in a nightclub surfaced, after Finland’s foreign minister tested positive for covid-19.
forming a coalition
Whoever wins these elections will have to form a multi-party coalition to get a majority in Parliament. However, negotiations could prove difficult.
Marin previously refused to form a government with Purra’s Finnish Party, calling it “blatantly racist” during a debate in January, a charge Purra has vehemently denied.
Teivainen believes that one of the most likely results of the elections is a right-wing government, made up of the Finnish Party and the National Coalition Party.
“The more radically anti-immigrant views of the Finnish Party would be somewhat tempered by the National Coalition which recognized the need to attract more immigrant workers to Finland for economic reasons.
“In any case, it would be a government clearly more fiscally and socially conservative than the current one, although not so different from the right-wing government that preceded it.
“It could also mean that Finland’s current commitment to be carbon neutral by 2035 could be made more flexible,” he told CNN.
Purra previously promised his party would delay Finland’s carbon neutrality target, which Marin’s ruling coalition set for 2035.
According to Teivainen, the other likely outcome is a coalition between the National Coalition Party and Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats, which he believes would “signify a shift, albeit a more moderate one, towards right-wing policies, especially in terms of fiscal discipline.”
Whoever Finland’s new leader is will be tasked with bringing the country into NATO after Turkey last week. finally approved Helsinki request to join the military alliance, ending months of delays.
Yle interviewed 1,830 Finnish citizens with the right to vote. The survey was conducted from March 1 to 28, 2023. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus two points.
Additional information from Reuters.