SUNDAY EVENING 23:55: ELECTION SPECIAL - BIG GAINS FOR OPPOSITION NATIONAL COALITION PARTY; SDP SUFFERS DEFEAT AT POLLS
Social Democrats and Centre Party both lose seats; pundits predict centre-right coalition for next government
With all the votes in, the big winners in the Parliamentary Election are the opposition National Coalition Party under Jyrki Katainen; the party gained 10 seats and narrowly fell short of becoming the largest party in the country.
The main government partners - the Centre Party and the Social Democrats - both lost ground, with the SDP shedding eight seats and the Centrists four.
Even so, the Centre Party under Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen managed to hold on to pole position with 23.1% and 51 seats against the 22.3 % and 50 seats of the NCP. The SDP collected 21.4% and look to receive 45 seats in the new Parliament, a serious disappointment for party leader and Finance Minister Eero Heinäluoma.
The time for analysis of the results and why things went so well for the moderate conservatives of the NCP and so badly for the Social Democrats is still ahead, but one thing appears certain: as Finland shifts towards the right in what can only be described as an NCP landslide (in a country noted for small electoral swings), it is hard to envisage the new government being anything but a centre-right coalition.
One possibility put forward by TV pundits is a combination of the Centre Party, the National Coalition Party, and the Swedish People's Party, who bucked the trend of government parties by actually gaining one seat to a total of nine.
The Left Alliance lost two seats and will have 17 seats. The Greens will have 15 MPs in the new assembly, a gain of one. The Christian Democrats have seven seats, showing no change. Among the small parties, the populist True Finns had a good night, adding two seats for a total of five.
The listing of the names of those who made it to the Parliament in Arkadianmäki, those who did not, and those of the previous contingent who fell by the wayside is still ahead. Nevertheless, it is necessary to point out that the former Finance Minister and former National Coalition Party chairman Sauli Niinistö collected a phenomenal vote haul in Uusimaa - more than 60,000 votes, or almost 10% of the party's total in the country as a whole. This shattered all previous records.
Welcome though the votes are, Niinistö's massive popular support is likely to be a serious challenge for the young and relatively inexperienced chairman of the NCP, 36-year-old Jyrki Katainen.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE's election projection (see below), published at around 21:30 while the count was still progressing, proved remarkably accurate, gauging correctly the relationship between the three major parties. The most recent opinion polls had shown burgeoning support for the NCP, but few had suggested they would actually overhaul the Social Democrats.
The counting of the votes in Sunday's Parliamentary Election is drawing to a close. With more than 95% of the votes in, and only Helsinki and Uusimaa Province still somewhat open, the story of the night is a major victory for the opposition National Coalition Party, who appear to have gained at least ten seats and taken over the position of second-largest party in the country, unseating the Social Democrats, who look to lose eight seats. The Centre Party, under Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, have also been given a reminder of the mortality associated with government office - they appear to have lost four seats in the new Parliament. A shift of ten seats is a landslide in Finnish electoral terms and the outcome seems certain to signal a period in opposition for the Social Democrats under their chairman Eero Heinäluoma.
Despite very active advance voting, the eventual voter turnout fell short of the 2003 figure and at 67.8% was the lowest post-war figure for a general election. In 2003, the turnout was narrowly over 70%.
With roughly 85% of all votes counted, the Centre Party (25.1%) remained the largest party in the country, and the SDP (21.8%) were still hanging on to their position as the second-largest party, ahead of the night's apparent winners, the opposition National Coalition Party (21.1%). These results still do not contain full returns from the largest cities, which will - if they follow normal trends - tend to swell the votes of the National Coalition and to a lesser extent the Social Democrats, at the expense of the Centrists. Regardless of which party emerges as the largest, and the choice would now appear to be between the Centre Party and the NCP, the election result must be seen as a triumph for the National Coalition under their chairman Jyrki Katainen. It is already clear that a former NCP chair, Sauli Niinistö, has collected the largest individual vote in Finnish parliamentary election history - more than 40,000 votes and counting.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE issued its election prognosis at 21:30, when just over 66% of the votes cast had been counted, including the advance votes. The announcement was delayed as the large number of advance votes - 1.2 million - slowed the overall count somewhat.
Please note that these are still a PROJECTION, and not the final result (the anticipated numbers of seats in the new Parliament are given in brackets, with the plus/minus comparison from 2003 in italics):
Centre Party 23.0% (51 -4)
Social Democrats 21.8% (45 -8)
National Coalition Party (Cons.) 22.1% (50 +10)
Left Alliance 9.0% (17 -2)
Greens 8.3% (14 +0)
Swedish People's Party 4.5% (9 +1)
Christian Democrats 4.8% (8 +1)
True Finns 3.9% (5 +2)
Others 2.6% (1 +0)
If this prognosis proves true, the opposition National Coalition Party can claim to be the biggest winners on the night, picking up as many as ten seats and snatching the position of second-largest party from the Social Democrats. The True Finns, who were really the only party to campaign on an EU platform (the party are strongly EU-sceptic) also made gains. Clearly, if the results pan out as such, it will end the NCP's period in opposition - it will be difficult to sideline them in the next government.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE will issue its election prognosis slightly late, at 21:15, when just over 50% of the votes cast have been counted, including the advance votes. This forecast has in recent years shown itself to be a remarkably accurate measure of the eventual election outcome, and takes account of the fluctuating nature of party support as the count proceeds from small rural constituencies to the cities of the south.
Counting is proceeding, and on the strength of advance votes the election outcome is likely to be extremely tight between the three largest parties. The anticipated clear victory by the Centre Party did not appear - their 24.8% of the advance votes may have been the largest share, but it was well down from the more than 28% they had won at this stage four years ago. One cause may be that more urban voters were among the 1.2 million who voted in advance. The opposition National Coalition Party were in buoyant mood as early returns came in, showing them running a close third to the Social Democrats. Traditionally the NCP vote has improved as the count progresses and the larger communities and cities file their results. Correspondingly, the early returns favour the Centre Party. By 20.30 their share of the overall votes count had risen to just over 26%.
Advance voting (20:05)
The approximately 1.2 million votes cast in advance of the Parliamentary Elections were released at 20:00 on Sunday evening, when the polls closed.
The percentages were as follows:
Centre Party 24.8%
Social Democrats 22.9%
National Coalition Party (Cons.) 21.8%
Left Alliance 9.4%
Swedish People's Party 3.2%
Christian Democrats 4.9%
True Finns 3.7%
It is important to note that these initial figures are an indicator at best, as they reflect something of a bias towards the rural voters, who traditionally support the Centre Party (formerly known as the Agrarian Union), and who have generally been active in advance voting. Furthermore, these advance votes are incomplete, with around 100,000 votes from Uusimaa and Helsinki still to be counted.
The outcome of the election will only become clear when Sunday's votes begin to come in. A traditionally accurate benchmark has been the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE's election prognosis, which is expected at 21:00.
The names of the new contingent of 200 MPs will only become clear as the count progresses.