(CNN) Finnish left Prime Minister Sanna Marin On Sunday he conceded defeat in a parliamentary election in the Scandinavian country as the right-wing opposition National Coalition party claimed victory in a closely contested contest.
Justice Ministry election data showed the pro-business National Congress Party was expected to win 48 of the 200 seats in parliament, narrowly ahead of the nationalist Finns’ Party with 46 and the Marin Social Democratic Party with 43.
“We got the biggest mandate,” NCP leader Petteri Orbo said in a speech to his followers, vowing to “fix Finland” and its economy.
He will get the first opportunity to form a coalition to gain a majority in parliament as Marin’s term as prime minister was expected to end.
“We got support and got more seats (in parliament). This is an excellent achievement, even if we didn’t finish in first place today,” the prime minister said in a speech to party members.
Marin, at 37, the world’s youngest prime minister when she took office in 2019, was considered by fans around the world a millennial role model for progressive new leaders, but she faced criticism at home for her celebration and public spending of its government.
While it remains very popular among many Finns, particularly young moderates, it has antagonized some conservatives with lavish spending on pensions and education that they deem not frugal enough.
The NCP has led in opinion polls for nearly two years, although its lead has melted in recent months. She promised to reduce spending and halt the rise in public debt, which has reached just over 70% of gross domestic product since Marin took office in 2019.
Urbu Marin was accused of undermining Finland’s economic resilience at a time when Europe’s energy crisis, prompted by Russia’s war in Ukraine, has hit hard and the cost of living has soared.
Orpo said he would negotiate with all groups to gain a majority in parliament, while Marin said her Social Democrats might rule with the NCP but they would not switch to government with the Finns’ party.
Marin called the Finnish party “overtly racist” during a debate in January – an accusation the nationalist group rejected.
The main goal of the Finnish party is to reduce what leader Rikka Pjora calls “harmful” immigration from developing countries outside the EU. He also advocates austerity policies to curb deficit spending, a position he shares with the NCP.
Marín’s most notable foreign policy action was her push, along with President Süley Niinisto, for the country to take a radical policy shift by seeking NATO membership in the wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine.
That process is now almost complete, and Helsinki is expected to join within days after all 30 members of the Western Defense Alliance agree to join.
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