The conservative Petteri Orpo has declared his party the winner of the parliamentary elections in Finland. “You know what? That was a great victory,” said the 53-year-old leader of the previously oppositional National Coalition Party late Sunday evening in front of cheering party supporters in Helsinki. “With this result, we start building a new government for Finland.”

After counting 96.8 percent of the vote, Orpo’s party had 48 of the 200 mandates. The right-wing populist party The Finns came second with 46 seats. Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats have 43 seats.

A provisional final result was expected around midnight on Monday night. Voter turnout was 71.9 percent, roughly the same as in the last parliamentary election in 2019.

A first electoral trend immediately after the polling stations closed, Orpo’s Conservatives and Marin’s Social Democrats had seen almost on par. The right-wing populists led by their party leader Riikka Purra followed at a smaller distance. Around 4.5 million Finns were eligible to vote. Almost 40 percent of them had already voted early, including Marin. The first numbers, which were published in the evening immediately after the polling stations closed, were based on these early votes. Observers expected that these values ​​could change over the course of the evening. A provisional final result should be available around midnight.

The last polls before election Sunday had already pointed to a close neck-and-neck race between the three parties. Which party becomes the strongest is important because traditionally in Finland, its leader is the first to get the chance to form a new government under his or her leadership.

For a majority in the 200-seat parliament in Helsinki, the winner of the election is likely to have to rely on one other of the large parties and at least one of the medium-sized and smaller parties. Longer coalition negotiations are expected this time. Marin has ruled out cooperation with the right-wing populist, national-conservative Finns party, while Orpo has not.

Marin has been Prime Minister of Finland since the end of 2019. The 37-year-old Social Democrat leads a five-party centre-left coalition and is valued by many Finns as a young and powerful leader. Your government first led the northernmost country in the EU through the corona pandemic and then, together with President Sauli Niinistö, through the NATO accession process, which will soon be completed: All 30 alliance members have agreed to the admission of the Finns, and in a few days Finland will officially become the 31st member of the NATO defense alliance.

However, joining NATO played no role in the election campaign. Instead, the main focus was on domestic issues such as the national budget. Marin’s opponents accuse her of driving up the national debt.