After losing some ground when hardliner Jussi Halla-aho took the party’s reigns in 2017, the Finns have made rapid gains in recent months when a number of cases of sexual abuse of minors by foreign men stirred anti-immigration sentiments.
But Halla-aho, who was fined by the Supreme Court in 2012 for blog comments linking Islam to paedophilia and Somalis to theft, emerged as Finland’s most popular politician on Sunday, garnering the highest number of votes – more than 30,000.
The Social Democrats’ Rinne won roughly 12,000.
“I could not expect a result like this, and no one could,” Halla-aho told supporters on Sunday, referring to the party’s overall result.
The Finns Party’s stance on environmental policies, which includes opposing a proposed tax on meat consumption, appeals to rural voters in particular who worry about soaring fuel costs and resent any efforts to change what they see as the traditional Finnish way of life.
The party is the only group in Finland – a country that has the highest air quality in the world, according to the World Health Organisation – to argue the next government should not speed up cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change.
Unlike Finland’s Social Democrats as well as populists in the south of Europe who resonate with voters angry over slow economic growth in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, the Finns call for fiscal restraint.
One area that has suffered most in the Nordics is the region’s cherished welfare model.
Healthcare systems across much of the developed world have come under increasing stress in recent years as treatment costs soar and people live longer, meaning fewer workers are supporting more pensioners.
Reform has been controversial in Finland and plans to cut costs and boost efficiency have stalled for years, leaving older voters worried about the future.
“It’s good that we are the biggest party in Finland, but it’s tough competition with other parties. Negotiations for a new government will be very tough and very difficult,” Social Democrat supporter Mikko Heinikoski, 37, said.