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Euro bailouts in focus in Finland's election

By Matti Huuhtanen

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 16 2011 12:10 p.m. MDT

Timo Soini, right, leader of True Finns and candidate for the Finnish Parliament gestures during the party's election campaign in Vantaa, Finland on Saturday April 16, 2011. Finns will go to the polls in parliamentary elections on Sunday.

Markku Ulander ) FINLAND OUT NO SALES, AP Photo/LEHTIKUVA

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HELSINKI — A nationalist party that rejects bailouts for Portugal and other debt-ridden eurozone members is expected to make strong gains in Finland's election Sunday but remains unlikely to join the next government, according to a series of recent polls.

The opposition True Finns party, which opposes immigration and rescue funds for what it calls Europe's "squanderers," has quadrupled its support since the last election and is poised to finish among the top four.

The True Finns' rise has led to worries in eurozone economies over whether they can count on Finland's support for bailout funds, which must be unanimously approved by the 17 countries using the euro.

However, recent surveys show the nationalists are not likely to get enough support to break up the current pro-bailout government — a four-party coalition led by Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi's Center Party and the conservative National Coalition Party.

"The bigger parties have no reason to invite the True Finns into any coalition if they can make up the numbers without them," said Olavi Borg, professor emeritus in political sciences.

True Finns leader Timo Soini believes his party is now big enough to deserve seats in the next government, though he realizes that his stance on European rescue funds is problematic for others parties.

"But everything is possible. If we could agree on a program, then who knows?" Soini said Friday.

A poll presented Thursday by public broadcaster YLE showed the National Coalition winning the election with 21.2 percent support ahead of the Center Party with 18.6 percent. Together with their two smaller coalition partners they would have a combined 53 percent, enough to keep their majority in Parliament.

The main opposition Social Democrats — who like the True Finns are skeptical about eurozone bailouts — got 18 percent support in the poll while the True Finns scored 15.4 percent. That's lower than in previous polls but a sharp increase from the 4 percent they won in the last election in 2007.

Keeping all options open, Kivniemi, the prime minister, didn't rule out coalition talks with any of the other leaders.

"I can work with all the parties, and all the leaders of the other parties," she said, signing autographs and speaking to voters in Helsinki on Saturday. "But we must first wait for the results of the elections, so then we are ready to start negotiating the next government's program."

Finland has pledged some €8 billion ($11.5 billion) in guarantees of a total €440 billion ($634 billion) in the eurozone's main bailout fund. But those likely will increase significantly as the currency union completes a promised boost of the fund's lending capacity.

If any single country pulls out the system will crash, leading to a worsening of the debt crisis at a time when the group is deciding whether bailouts will end with Portugal or will also be needed for larger economies like Spain or Italy.

Karl Ritter and David Mac Dougall contributed to this report.

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