Anti-euro Finns Party set for strong show in local polls
(HELSINKI) - Finland's anti-euro populist party is expected to put in a strong showing in municipal elections on Sunday after a campaign dominated by concerns over health care, jobs, taxes and the euro crisis.
Much of the interest in the elections centres around the anti-immigration Finns Party, previously known as the True Finns. It is adamantly opposed to the Finnish government's participation in eurozone bailouts.
Headed by charismatic leader Timo Soini, the Finns Party soared to become the country's third-biggest formation in legislative elections in 2011, behind the government coalition partners the right-wing National Coalition and the Social Democrats.
On Sunday, the Finns Party will have twice as many candidates standing for election than in the previous municipal elections in 2008, with 4,394 compared to 1,840. Observers are watching keenly to see how they will do.
They "will have a very good election," a professor of political science at Helsinki University, Jan Sundberg, told AFP.
"The support of the Finns (Party) and Soini is due very much to voters' general disillusionment about politics," his colleague Tuomo Martikainen said.
"In the background there is also the fear that Finland will go deeper into saving the euro," he added.
On Wednesday, a poll conducted by Finnish television channel MTV3 credited the Finns Party with 15.2 percent of voter support: that is almost three times its 5.4 percent showing in the 2008 municipal polls, but down from the 19.1 percent it won in last year's legislative elections.
The survey also showed Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen's National Coalition Party garnering 20.5 percent of the vote, followed by the Centre and Social Democratic parties, running neck-and-neck at 18.6 percent.
Some 4.3 million voters are eligible to elect local officials in the country's 320 municipalities on Sunday. They include 137,000 foreigners who are either members of the EU, Norway or Iceland, or who come from another country but have been residents of Finland for at least two years.
Campaigning took a dramatic turn on Monday when a 27-year-old man approached the prime minister with a bread knife during a campaign rally. According to police, the man, who was swiftly arrested by security services, never posed a real threat to Katainen and was released from custody on Wednesday.
Finland is one of only a few eurozone countries to still hold a top triple-A credit rating among the three big international ratings institutes, along with Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The Finnish government has heeded public opposition to bailing out eurozone countries in difficulty, such as Greece and Spain. It argues that those countries ought to implement tougher budget reforms and control.
It is the only country to demand collateral for its bailout help, delaying rescue help.
Polls are due to open on Sunday at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) and close at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT). Preliminary results are expected as of 11:00 pm (2000 GMT).
In the 2008 municipal elections, voter turnout was 61.3 percent.