March 29, 2019 / 10:32 AM / a month ago

Finnish nationalists rise to third place in poll ahead of elections

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The nationalist Finns Party has overtaken Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party to become Finland’s third-most popular party before an April 14 election, according to a poll published by public broadcaster Yle on Friday.

Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho is pictured in Helsinki, Finland February 27, 2019. February 27, 2019. Lehtikuva/Antti Aimo-Koivisto via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.

Support for the eurosceptic Finns Party rose to 15.1 percent in March from 13.3 in February. The party has made rapid gains in recent months, thanks in part to rising anti-immigration sentiment following a number of cases of sexual abuse of minors by foreign men.

Leftist Social Democrats are still in the lead at 20.1 percent, according to the Yle poll.

Finland’s governing coalition, led by Sipila’s Centre Party and the centre-right National Coalition, resigned on March 8 due to its failure to push through a healthcare reform considered crucial to public finances.

But the runner up position looks uncertain as the National Coalition in third place at 14.4 percent and Centre Party at 14.4 percent all fell within the polls’ margin of error of +/- 2.3 percent.

At the last election in 2015, the Finns Party won 17.7 percent of the vote. It subsequently split in two in 2017 when hardliner Halla-aho took the party’s reigns.

Sipila, who continues in the job as a caretaker until the elections, foresaw difficulties in forming the new government.

“The upcoming negotiations to form a government certainly won’t be easy,” he said about the latest poll results on Finnish TV channel MTV’s morning show on Friday.

“I refer to Sweden, for instance. If the election result is not very clear, it may take a lot of time to find grounds for a government coalition,” he said.

A political deadlock in neighbouring Sweden lasted four months after no clear winning block emerged from parliamentary elections in September.

Leaders of the largest Finnish parties have ruled out working with the Finns Party in a coalition after the upcoming elections.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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