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Finland election 2019: all you need to know about the landmark vote

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Finland election 2019: all you need to know about the landmark vote
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Climate change is set to play a major factor in Finland’s general election on Sunday, experts have told Euronews.

It is likely to be the first time in Europe that global warming has played so heavily on the minds of voters.

But climate is not the only issue for Finns to be concerned about. An ageing population means healthcare and welfare reforms are on the agenda too.

Here's our handy explainer on everything you need to know and understand ahead of the parliamentary poll.

What’s the back story?

Since the last election four years ago, Finland has been governed by a three-party coalition, consisting of Centre Party, Finns Party and the National Coalition.

The coalition was thrown into turmoil in 2017 when the populist Finns Party elected Jussi Halla-aho as its new chief.

Finland’s prime minister, Juha Sipila, refused to govern with the party if controversial Halla-aho remained as its head.

But the coalition survived after 20 of Finns Party’s MPs, including all those serving in the cabinet, defected to form a party that would later become Blue Reform.

Then, in March this year, a fresh crisis erupted.

Sipila and the whole government resigned after failing to get major healthcare and welfare reforms through parliament.

Some experts say the resignation was a politically-calculated move ahead of this month’s elections.

Curiously, after quitting, Sipila was reappointed to head up a caretaker government by the country’s president.

A quick guide to the key parties in Finnish politics

Centre Party: As you might expect, a centrist, liberal party. It led Finland’s governing coalition after getting the biggest share of votes in 2015.

Finns Party: Right-wing populists who governed in the three-party coalition until being forced out two years ago.

National Coalition: The final coalition member, a centre-right party that has been a mainstay in Finnish politics for decades.

Blue Reform: A new movement that broke away from the Finns Party in 2017. It replaced them in the governing coalition.

Green League: Finland’s main environmental party, which only got 8.5% of the vote in 2015 but is expected to improve on that this time around.

Social Democrats: The party suffered its worst result at the 2015 election but is tipped for a comeback this time around.

How do elections work in Finland?

Finland has a proportional representation system, with parties getting seats in parliament according to how many votes its candidates receive. Unlike in other countries, voters choose individual candidates on a list rather than opting for political parties.

What are the key issues?

Experts say global warming has been a major issue in Finland since the IPCC released a report last autumn in which it was claimed the world has 12 years left to limit a climate change catastrophe.

“So it’s really a huge environmental election, basically,” Janne Tukiainen, a visiting professor of political science at the London School of Economics, told Euronews.

“It’s not based on people’s own experiences [the concern about global warming], maybe a little bit of that, but I think it was just people are on average quite educated and quite concerned and the latest IPCC report was a real wake-up call.”

The other key factor worrying Finns is what direction stalled welfare and healthcare reforms will take.

They are aimed at reducing health inequality and reducing the financial burden of a rapidly ageing population.

But the previous coalition resigned en masse in March after failing to get them approved by Finland’s parliament.

Experts say that failure is likely to taint the Centre Party — the political movement of caretaker PM Sipila — in Sunday’s vote.

Why should the rest of Europe care?

The make-up of Finland’s next government is likely to influence what kind of voice it will have in Brussels for Europe-wide issues like climate change and refugee policy.

This is especially relevant because Helsinki is set to take the reins of the rotating EU presidency in July.

If the Finns Party — who has seen its predicted vote share double since December — get into power that could have an influence at European level.

“Finland had a very low-level of asylum seekers or refugees in general before and we got, relatively speaking, a huge influx, at the same time as the rest of Europe,” said Dr Tukiainen.

“So that also became a very salient policy issue, which is benefitting the Finn Party, which are heavily anti-immigrant.

“Whether the Finn Party will be in government or not will determine a lot about what Finland will try to achieve in the European Union: whether we will be a strong voice for pro-environmental policies and how we try to influence Europe’s stance in global negotiations about climate change.

“It’s the same with immigration and the refugee crisis.”

What is the likely outcome?

“The Social Democrats are probable winners because they lead in every poll by two to three percentage points,” said Antti Ronkainen, a political economist at the University of Helsinki.

“However their support is below 20%, which means that if they don’t co-operate with the Finns Party they will likely need at least three other parties to form a majority government.”

Dr Tukiainen said for the first time there is likely to be five major parties, a shift away from the historic three that have dominated Finnish politics.

“I’m pretty sure the Centre Party will not be in the (next) government,” he said. “They are being punished heavily for being the prime minister’s party now and failing to push their social and healthcare reforms through and unpopular policies like taking money away from education for example.

“What seems most likely is that the Social Democrats will be the largest and the prime ministerial party.

“Any winner wants to avoid working with the Finns Party, but we’ll see if that’s possible after the election.”