1 of 2 | Petteri Orpo, leader of Finland's National Coalition Party, will need to form a coalition to become prime minister after his party won a narrow lead in the nations elections. Photo by Mikko Stig/EPA-EFE
April 3 (UPI) -- National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo is set to become Finland's next prime minister after a narrow victory over the center-left party of prime minister Sanna Marin.
The nearly evenly split three-way result in Sunday's poll saw Marin's Social Democratic party beaten into third place with 19.9% of the vote behind the rightwing populist Finns Party, which won a record 20.1%, and the leading conservative NCP which garnered 20.8% of the vote in an election decided largely on the economy.
"We got the biggest mandate," Orpo said following the win.
All three parties gained seats in the 200-member parliament but the NCP's narrow majority --- 48 seats to the Finns' 46 -- means Orpo will only become prime minister if he is able to cobble together a 100-seat coalition need to form a government under Finland's proportional representation system.
The focus of Orpo's campaign on spending cuts to tackle the country's debt, the future viability of its social welfare system and its policy toward migration triumphed over Marin's "values-based message."
Marin, who was on the back foot over high inflation, a shrinking economy and failure to bring borrowing under control by cutting public spending, emphasized economic growth, education, higher employment and higher taxes.
"Congratulations to the winner of the elections, congratulations to the National Coalition Party, congratulations to the Finns Party. Democracy has spoken," Marin told supporters.
Marin, 37, garnered a national reputation for her "rock star" lifestyle but faced scrutiny in Finland after videos emerged of her drinking and dancing with friends, which led her to take a drug test -- which was negative.
Marin's defeat came despite her popularity and just two days after Turkey approved Finland's NATO membership bid, which the country's youngest-ever leader was credited with navigating.