The nationalist Finns Party narrowly avoided victory after taking 17.6 percent after more than 97 percent of votes were counted. They were narrowly pipped to the post by Finland’s leftist Social Democrat party (SDP), with leader Antti Rinne declaring victory after partial results showed his party winning by a tight margin with 17.8 percent.
Mr Rinne said: “For the first time since 1999 we are the largest party in Finland. SDP is the prime minister party.”
The 56-year-old former union leader was hoping he could become the first leftist Prime Minister the Nordic country has seen in two decades.
But the Social Democrats’ ability to govern could now hampered by the surge in support for the Finns Party, a nationalist group riding a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the Nordics.
READ MORE: Which party won the Finland election?
Finland election: The Finns party came second (Image: GETTY )
Finland election: The Social Democratic Party have taken the lead (Image: REUTERS )
For the first time in a long time, Social Democrats are the largest party
Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne
The process of putting together a coalition could be drawn out because of the nation’s fragmented 200-seat Eduskunta parliament, with most party leaders ruling out any cooperation with the Finns’ after there strong showing.
With the European Parliament election less than two months away, the Finnish ballot was also being closely watched in Brussels.
A strong result for the Finns Party is now likely to bolster a nationalist bloc threatening to shake up EU policy-making.
About 36 percent of voting-age Finns cast their votes in a seven-day advance voting period that ended on Tuesday.
Finland election: The populist Finns Party made ground (Image: GETTY )
Finland election: About 36 percent of voting-age Finns cast their votes (Image: REUTERS )
With the top contenders running close, the final results could still show another group winning and getting the first shot at forming government.
At the stake in the election is the future shape of Finland’s welfare system, a corner of its social model, which the leftist want to preserve through tax hikes and the centre-right wants to see streamlined because of rising costs.
The Finns call for limits on the country’s environmental policies, arguing the nation has gone too far in addressing issues such as climate change at its own expense, as well as a revamp of its immigration stance.
With the European Parliament election less than two months away, the Finnish ballot is also being watched in Brussels. A strong result for the Finns Party could bolster a nationalist bloc threatening to shake up EU policy-making.
Underscoring the growing confidence among far-right politicians in Europe, anti-immigration parties have announced plans to join forces following the May 26 EU election, in a move that could give them major say in how the continent is run.