Finnish conservatives, opposition in tight race

By Karl Ritter

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 17 2011 1:20 p.m. MDT

Supporters of the True Finns party celebrate at the party's reception in Helsinki, Finland on Sunday evening April 17, 2011 after Finns went to the polls in parliamentary elections. An election forecast by Finnish public broadcaster YLE shows the conservative National Coalition Party ahead by a one-seat margin over two euroskeptic opposition parties including the True Finns who oppose bailouts for debt-ridden European countries . If the result stands, it would be likely that one euroskeptic party would be part of the next coalition government.

Martti Kainulainen FINLAND OUT NO SALES, AP Photo/ LEHTIKUVA

HELSINKI — Finland's governing conservatives held a razor-thin lead Sunday over two opposition parties that have challenged bailouts to debt-ridden members of the eurozone, preliminary election results showed.

An election forecast by Finnish public broadcaster YLE and official results with 70 percent of votes counted indicated a tight race between the conservative National Coalition Party, the Social Democrats and the nationalist True Finns — who were making major gains in the ballot.

Party leaders said the election was too close to call, but if the result stands it would likely mean that at least one euroskeptic party would be part of the next coalition government.

"This result will give Europe gray hairs, it will cause them problems over the bailout funds," said Olavi Borg, professor emeritus in political sciences.

The anti-immigration and staunchly euroskeptic True Finns oppose bailouts for debt-ridden European countries while the Social Democrats have called for changes to how they are funded.

The rise of the True Finns has rattled nerves in the 17-member eurozone where bailout funds require unanimous approval.

The YLE forecast showed the conservatives — part of the current center-right government — getting 42 seats while the True Finns and the Social Democrats had 41 seats each. That outcome would be a huge success for the True Finns, who currently only have six seats in the 200-member Parliament.

"This is really good. This is a historic change," True Finns leader Timo Soini said as the votes were counted.

Conservative leader Jyrki Katainen said it was too early to say which way the election would go.

Opinion polls before the vote suggested that the pro-European center-right government would likely keep their majority. But preliminary results showed they would finish a few seats short of a majority.

The biggest loser was Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi's Center Party, losing a quarter of their support in the last election in 2007, according to the early results.

"It would appear to be a crushing defeat for us," she said.

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