Helsinki: Finns head to the polls on Sunday following a Parliamentary Election campaign marked by the traditional mainstream parties' struggle to keep the soaring nationalist, right-wing True Finns at bay.
The last poll before the vote placed the True Finns in fourth place with 15.4 percent support, compared to 21.2 percent for the first-place National Coalition.
The ruling Centre Party and the main opposition Social Democrats (SDP) were according to that survey in a tight race for second place, with 18.6 and 18.0 percent respectively, although either party also has a chance to close the small gap behind the National Coalition to pull out a victory.
Polling stations open at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) and close at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) with the first preliminary results expected to be announced around the same time.
The issue of European Union bailouts took front stage in election campaigning, along with concerns about funding for pensions for the country's rapidly aging population, welfare services and immigration.
While the True Finns' chances of landing a spot in the next coalition government diminished as their support numbers slipped slightly in recent weeks, the Parliament will probably lurch right due to the expected massive increase of anti-EU, immigration-sceptical True Finns parliamentarians.
The nationalist party, which captured only 4.1 percent in the last elections in 2007, has sprung into the political big league thanks largely to the charisma of its leader, Timo Soini and his populist "Finns-First" rhetoric.
"The True Finns is the Timo Soini Party," Tampere University political analyst Ilkka Ruostetsaari said.
Soini, 48, who is currently a member of the European Parliament, has vowed his party will not enter a coalition that plans to increase loan guarantees for debt-ridden European Union member states, an issue that many analysts feel is almost a done deal.
This issue alone could keep the True Finns out of a coalition, since both the governing Centre and National Coalition have stressed Finland's "responsibility" to the European Union.
The SDP has suffered the most at the hands of the True Finns, as the disgruntled working-class has abandoned it in droves.
In an attempt to stop the haemorrhaging of voters, the party's 35-year-old leader Jutta Urpilainen has shaped the SDP message to sound a lot more like that of the True Finns, with a more sceptical line on immigration and a new cautious, even unclear approach to the EU.
A record number of immigrants, 45 in total, are also running in these elections on all eight of the current parliamentary party tickets, including that of the True Finns, who have a Belgian and a Swedish-born candidate on their list.
Four other parliamentary parties are also campaigning for re-election, and are polling in the single digits: the Green League and the Swedish People's Party, both of which are government partners, and the opposition Christian Democrats and Left Alliance.
First Published: Sunday, April 17, 2011, 12:32