Finland ousted its Left-wing Prime Minister Sanna Marin in a narrow three-way race during the parliamentary elections on Sunday, granting victory to the Nordic country’s center-Right National Coalition Party (NCP).
Marin, 37, a member of the Social Democrats party, conceded defeat with only 19.9% of the vote to NCP candidate Petteri Orpo, who won with 20.8%, followed by Right-wing populist party The Finns with 20.1%.
“We have gained support, we have gained more seats (in parliament). That’s an excellent achievement, even if we did not finish first today,” the prime minister said in a speech to party members, CNN reported.
Marin, who became the world’s youngest prime minister when she assumed office in 2019, faced backlash after private videos of her partying in an apartment and additional footage of her dancing intimately with another man who was not her husband during the COVID pandemic, according to The Daily Caller.
She later issued an apology and took a drug test.
Critics of the young global leader also disapproved of her public government spending.
Orpo, 53, Finland’s newly elected prime minister and former finance minister, accused Marin of crumbling the country’s economy amid Europe’s energy crisis fueled by the war between Russia and Ukraine, which increased the cost of living.
“We got the biggest mandate,” Orpo said in a speech to followers, vowing to “fix Finland” and its economy, CNN reported.
Orpo said the country, which shares a long border with Russia, would continue supporting Ukraine.
“First to Ukraine: we stand by you, with you,” Orpo told the Associated Press at NCP’s victory event. “We cannot accept this terrible war. And we will do all that is needed to help Ukraine, Ukrainian people, because they fight for us. This is clear.”
“And the message to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is: go away from Ukraine because you will lose,” Orpo added.
Finland is expected to officially join NATO in the coming days as tensions between Europe and Russia remain high over the war in Ukraine.
Finland’s entrance into the intergovernmental military organization comes after Turkey became the final NATO member to approve the Nordic country’s application for membership, which officials first filed in May 2022.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin first announced their intent to join NATO nearly a year ago at a joint news conference in Helsinki. The long-neutral nation shares an 830-mile-long border with Russia, which has spooked neighboring countries with its attack on Ukraine.
Juhana Aunesluoma, a professor of political history at the University of Helsinki, told The Associated Press that the nation of 5.5 million people cast about one-third of the votes to Left-wing parties and two-thirds to parties on the Right.
It was “a big swing from left to right,” Aunesluoma said.
The Associated Press reported that officials from the NCP have advocated for NATO membership for two decades. However, in order to become a member, Finland would need to meet a 2% military defense spending target.
“This is something that they will do,” Aunesluoma said. “But it won’t be easy, given that the government will actually be facing severe cuts in public spending,” adding that government officials would have to balance increasing the defense budget and cutting welfare spending.
Leif Le Mahieu contributed to this report.