(Helsinki) The leader of the center right won the legislative elections in Finland on Sunday and must replace outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin, after a very tight ballot where the nationalists, who could enter the government, reached a record.

“It’s a big victory,” said Petteri Orpo, a 53-year-old former minister, to cheers from supporters.

“We are going to start negotiations for a government in Finland,” said the man who now has the possibility of forging a left-wing alliance with Ms. Marin or with the anti-immigration and eurosceptic Finns party of Riikka Purra.

According to almost final results with more than 98% of the vote, the National Coalition party comes first with 48 of the 200 seats in Parliament, ahead of the Finns party (46) and the Social Democrats (43).

Despite progress from the 2019 elections, Sanna Marin admitted defeat.

“Congratulations to the winner of the elections, congratulations to the National Coalition, congratulations to the Party of Finns, democracy has spoken,” she said.

The candidate of the party arriving first traditionally inherits the post of Prime Minister in Finland, provided that he can muster a majority in Parliament.

The differences in votes are just as tenuous: 20.8% for the center right, 20.1% for the far right, and 19.9% ​​for Ms. Marin’s SDP.

Greeted with cries of “Finland!” Finland! Riikka Purra congratulated herself in front of her supporters on the “best electoral result” in the history of the nationalist party.

The 45-year-old nationalist leader even offered herself the luxury of winning the most votes for her name, with around 38,000 against 35,000 for the popular Sanna Marin.

Petteri Orpo had led the race in the polls during the campaign before seeing his lead melt away in the final sprint.

The three parties are progressing from the last elections in 2019, in a three-way battle that has eclipsed the results of the other parties.

Established for more than 20 years in Finnish political life, the far right has broken its record of 19.05% dating back to 2011, in the wake of the populist wave that has crossed Europe in recent years.

“We don’t have a far-right party in Finland,” Mr. Orpo assured the foreign press, however, when an alliance with the nationalists is considered likely.

These legislative elections in the country of 5.5 million people coincide with the official entry of the country bordering Russia into NATO, expected in the coming days.

Popular abroad and in Finland, Sanna Marin has established herself as a “rock star prime minister”, but she is more divisive at home, where she has been criticized over public finances and inflation.

Men are overrepresented in the right-wing electorate, while women vote more left and for Ms. Marin.

The youngest head of government in the world when she came to power at the end of 2019, she has been praised for her good management of the COVID-19 pandemic and the NATO accession process, and for her stances against the neighboring Russia.

“She made us proud, before people laughed at us, we were an old school party,” said Mo Shimer, a 26-year-old SDP activist.

The economy has been the main angle of attack for the opposition, which denounces in particular the increase in public debt. The far right has campaigned on juvenile delinquency, which it believes is linked to immigration.

“I felt I had to come and vote because ‘rock star’ Marin’s time is running out, she hasn’t done anything good,” Antti Piispanen, a 30-year-old salesman, told AFP after put his ballot in the ballot box.

The formation of a government traditionally takes several weeks or even months.

Ms. Marin is therefore expected to take over the interim next week when Finland officially joins NATO.

The election changes nothing from the point of view of the military alliance: all major parties, including the Finns, are now in favor of it since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

Long Swedish – still an official language with Finnish and the first language of around 5% of Finns – Finland was ceded to Russia in 1809.

The “grand duchy” took advantage of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 to proclaim its independence, at the cost of a civil war between “reds” and “whites”.

Invaded by the USSR in 1939 after the German-Soviet pact, Finland resisted valiantly during the three months of the Winter War. But after the resumption of the conflict in 1941, she ended the war on the side of the vanquished.

At the end of a “friendship” treaty signed in 1948 under pressure from Moscow, Helsinki agreed to stay out of Western military cooperation, in a form of forced neutrality called “Finlandization”.

At the end of the Cold War, Finland joined the European Union and took root in the West, but it was not until the war in Ukraine that it decided to join NATO.

Of the eight main parties, seven are led by women. The country is in the world leader for gender equality.

When Sanna Marin came to power in 2019, becoming the third female prime minister, photos of her alliance of five parties, all led by women, went viral.

The Finnish Parliament was the first in the world to have women MPs, when the country was still Russian.

Today, they represent 47% of the outgoing parliament.

With 7% of its population born abroad according to the OECD, Finland is one of the least cosmopolitan countries in Europe.

But the acceleration of arrivals favored the emergence of the Party of Finns, whose line hardened after a split in 2017.

Referring to the gang war in neighboring Sweden, the party wants to strengthen immigration policy by taking inspiration from another Nordic neighbor, Denmark, in order to “save Finland” from the “Swedish way”.

The National Coalition sees immigration as a response to an aging population, while Sanna Marin rejects any collaboration with an “openly racist” Party of Finns.

A red-blue alliance would be complicated by economic disagreements, with the right having campaigned against the government’s supposed fiscal irresponsibility.

Known for being a low-key people, Finns were crowned the world’s happiest people in March for the sixth consecutive year, a ranking sponsored by the UN.

With its thousands of lakes and ubiquitous forests, the Nordic country of 5.5 million inhabitants and more than 330,000 square kilometers has a successful social model, high trust in authorities and limited inequalities.

Bound by frost for nearly half the year, Finns can boast another top spot: the number of saunas, which peaks at three million – more than cars.

The Happiness Report, however, came as a surprise at Finland’s first title in 2018: Many locals describe themselves as taciturn and melancholy, confidently watching the outpourings of joy with suspicion.