Why the party might be over for ‘world’s coolest prime minister' Sanna Marin
Sanna Marin, Finland’s party-loving leader who was once called “the world’s coolest prime minister,” is feted around the world as a rock star politician.
Hailed as a role model for young Leftist leaders, the 37-year-old Prime Minister’s international fame grew after videos of her enthusiastically drinking and dancing with friends at a party were leaked, prompting her to take a drugs test to prove she was clean.
But the youngest Prime Minister in Finland’s history is falling out of favour in the face of a recession, soaring interest rates and criticism of her bloated public spending plans, and is now facing defeat in elections as voters head to the polls on Sunday.
The latest polls have Ms Marin’s Social Democrats slipping into third place, the anti-immigration and nationalist Finns Party and the centre-Right National Coalition Party, which held on to a thin lead after weeks of the rivals being neck and neck.
Ms Marin’s centre-right rival Petteri Orpo was upbeat on Saturday after polls put his National Coalition party in first place.
“We have done a great campaign. We have the best candidates all over Finland and we are first in polls so I’m optimistic,” Mr Orpo said.
“I want to fix our economy. I want to boost economic growth”, he said, adding that Marin “is not worried about the economy. She is not worried about debt”.
“She is very popular, but also polarising,” Rachel Tausendfreund, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund think tank told the Telegraph.
“This is in part because she is – by Finnish standards – rather outspoken and does not shy away from clearly Left-wing positioning. As a result, she’s a big target for the hard-Right.”
Ms Marin, who was the world’s youngest serving Prime Minister when she was elected in 2019, leads a centre-left coalition of five parties, all led by women, which has come under sustained fire for debt-fuelled spending after the pandemic.
“This has been the issue that has been making a lot of noise,” said Emilia Palonen, a senior lecturer in political science and an expert in politics and populism at the University of Helsinki.
“The media has been focused on where we should be cutting back, while the social democrats have been maintaining a need for services and welfare.”
Ms Marin’s insistence that Finland must spend its way back to growth has seen her popularity drop further.
Her rivals, Petteri Orpo of the right-wing National Coalition Party and Riikka Purra of the nationalist Finns Party, are calling for fiscal austerity to restore government finances.
Momentum has now shifted to the Finns, a eurosceptic and immigration party, which was the only one of the Big Three to gain support in some of the latest polls.
Finland’s public debt is at 71 per cent of GDP, up from 65 per cent when Ms Marin took office. It is a shocking figure for a country traditionally prudent with its household finances.
Ms Marin is celebrated in Europe for leading Finland into Nato after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and her fierce criticism of Vladmir Putin.
But Finns don’t associate accession to Nato with Ms Marin, according to Ms Palonen, but rather the president of Finland, who is from another party.
“As in any country, it is not the leaders who get the most praise abroad who are also popular in their own country, Look at Tony Blair,” said Ms Palonen.
While the National Coalition Party and Finns could form a coalition, there is no chance of Ms Marin being part of Ms Purra’s government.
If coalition talks between the two Right-wing parties fail after the election, Ms Marin could form a grand coalition with the National Coalition Party but that will still mean she steps down as Prime Minister.
So what’s next for Sanna Marin, now that it looks like the party could be over in Finland?
The star of the European Left has been tipped as a possible Spitzenkandidat, a lead candidate for the pan-EU socialists to be the next president of the European Commission in elections next year.
For her critics, “partygate” only confirmed that Ms Marin was not serious enough to be Finland’s prime minister, a role she took up after the resignation of her predecessor in 2019.
Ms Marin was unrepentant. In February she told voters they could kick her out of office “if they like”.
I’m living my life, and still dancing, and drinking occasionally, meeting my friends and all kinds of things that are normal for my age," she said.
“I don't think that we should give that room for sexism or misogyny. I think we should all just be ourselves and people can vote,” she said.