Last dance? Finland’s Sanna Marin faces re-election battle – Politico

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TAMPERE, Finland — Sana Marin, one of the brightest stars of the European left, has two months to save her job.

This month, the Finnish prime minister launched her Social Democrats election campaign ahead of the April 2 election with her party trailing the center-right National Alliance Party under rival Petteri Orpo in opinion polls.

after shiny Following a laser show and a performance by a drumming group, Marines took to the stage promising to invest in education, employment and welfare provision.

“We’re not going to get balanced government spending, or maintain a healthy society through cuts,” he said. “This is the bitter medicine of the political right and it doesn’t work.”

Since he took over as prime minister from misfiring predecessor Auntie Rein, Marine has emerged as a shining light of the European left at a time when it desperately needs new energy.

German Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz is increasingly embroiled in controversy, while Sweden’s center-left leader Magdalena Andersson lost power in an election in September. Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen is only in office by swinging sharply to the right.

On the streets of Marin’s hometown of Tampere, an industrial center in southwestern Finland where he still sits on the city council, many voters said they thought highly of the prime minister.

When asked to review his performance, the word “efficient” was frequently used, with his political style being called “direct” and “refreshing”.

Not unlike the central clothing store where Marin himself worked before entering politics, 19-year-old Ira Eklund said Marin had faced a “bumpy ride” as prime minister, managing both the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. .

But Marin’s rise from cashier to prime minister in just a few years was impressive, Eklund said.

“I think it’s amazing that he’s gone on to lead the country from where I’m standing,” he said. “It shows what kind of career change you can make if you want to.”

Still, Eklund and other voters on their way to shop or work in Tampere also had concerns about the way Marin and the Social Democrats have run Finland, particularly the way they’ve overseen an increase in public debt.

Sanna Marin’s party has trailed the center-right National Alliance Party under rival Petteri Orpo in opinion polls. Martti Kynulainen/AFP via Getty Images

The latest government data showed that general government debt as a share of Finland’s economic output rose to 70.9 percent in the third quarter of 2022 from 68.7 percent in the same quarter the previous year, and the increase has already proven to be a key campaign issue.

Opposition leader Orpo recently suggested that rising debt risks undermining Finnish welfare provision and said the country “needs to wake up to what government apathy towards debt is leading to.”

In his campaign launch, Marin said closing the “tax loophole” would ensure the economy stays healthy. This may include higher taxes on capital and inheritance.

“A strong society can only be built on strong growth and high employment,” he said.

opposite ends

Arpo’s party currently leads opinion polls: his NCP has 22 percent of voters, compared to 19 percent for both the Social Democrats and the far-right Finns Party.

But experts are not ruling out a Social Democrat comeback in the coming weeks with Marin – consistently rated as the most popular prime ministerial candidate in polls – seen as an asset.

“I think it’s fair to say he’s picking up his party,” said Teivo Teivainen, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki. “The Social Democrats have traditionally had an image as a party for older voters but research shows that Marin has been able to attract more young voters.”

Finland’s National Assembly Election Polls

For more polling data across Europe visit Politico Poll of polls.

For many Finns outside of Tampere, their first sight of Marin was in a viral YouTube video of a 2016 Tampere city council meeting — showing him — as chair — confidently shutting down colleagues who made excessively long statements about transport policy.

He became transport minister under Rinne, and when he resigned after a scandal in the postal service, he became Finland’s youngest leader at age 34.

He has tried to portray himself as a firm and professional political operator who is willing to listen to allies and opponents, but who can also make tough decisions.

“I don’t want conflict and I strive for compromise and joint solutions,” he said in a documentary on Finnish national broadcaster Yale in 2021. “But if the negotiations are not successful, I can decide and decide what we should do.”

He declined an interview request for this article.

Social Democrats in Brussels are likely to be eyeing the Finnish election. If Marine loses, he could be seen as an asset to an S&D group beset by the Qatargate corruption scandal. There is even speculation that he could be put forward as the group’s candidate for president of the European Commission.

local star

Although born in Helsinki, Marin grew up in Tampere, attending a school in nearby Pirkala before studying administrative science at the city’s university.

He is a star in Tampere, a picture of him recently hung in a prominent place in the city hall

Before a recent evening ice hockey match at local club Elves, which Marin supports, fans supported their hometown leader. A barista manning a coffee stand at the stadium said he felt Marine got the big call right, opting for an early and strict lockdown in the face of COVID and fast-tracking to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The barista said he had never seen Marin at an Elves game, although the prime minister had posted pictures of himself at an international hockey match on social media last year. Her Instagram account, with over a million followers, has long been a highly polished part of her PR efforts, with her shots at rock festivals and red carpet events regularly reaching a wide audience.

However, her online outreach went wrong last year when fellow guests at a house party she attended posted online what appeared to be a private video of her singing and dancing.

Sanna Marin celebrates a goal during an ice hockey match between Finland and Canada on May 29, 2022 | Jonathan Nakstrand/AFP via Getty Images

Marin admitted that Finns “didn’t want to see” such videos, but said they were part of a “joyful” life.

Experts say that the video, which made headlines worldwide, did not radically change his position in Finland: those who had already supported Marin continued to support him, and those who opposed him also dug in.

In Tampere, Eklund, the shop assistant, said Marine is still seen as a woman-man of the city, who lived like any other resident before taking what she learned to the center of power. Helsinki.

Eklund said he wasn’t sure which issues would affect his vote, or whether Marin had done enough to improve the lives of Tampere’s regular voters.

“He definitely knows what it’s like to be in our shoes,” Eklund said. “But could he have done more with that knowledge? Maybe.”