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Last Updated: Monday, 17 March, 2003, 00:35 GMT
Opposition wins Finnish poll
Anneli Jaeaetteenmaeki
Jaeaetteenmaeki is set to become Finland's first female prime minister
The opposition Centre Party has won the Finnish general election.

The party, led by Anneli Jaeaetteenmaeki, narrowly beat the incumbent Social Democrats (SDP) of Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen.

The victory paves the way for Ms Jaatteenmaki to become the country's first female prime minister.

A woman, Tarja Halonen, already serves as president, after her election in 2000.

The Centre Party gained 24.8% of votes, securing 55 seats in the new parliament, increasing its number of deputies by seven.

The Social Democratic Party won 53 seats, two more than at the last election.

Only 6,300 votes separated the two main parties.

Coalition plans

"It's fantastic!" said Ms Jaeaetteenmaeki when the results came in.

"Now our work starts. Such support from the people requires us to work for the people and make everyday day life for the Finns better," added the 48-year-old former minister and lawyer.

Without an absolute majority, the Centre Party will have to seek a coalition.

Commentators believe a conservative bloc, with the National Coalition Party, the Swedish People's Party and the Christian Democrats, is the most likely option.

Between them, the four parties would have 110 seats in the 200-seat parliament.

Other possibilities would be a right-left coalition with the Social Democrats.

"Now I want to have a little break," said Ms Jaeaetteenmaeki. "Then the real negotiations can start next week."

Analysts say a government led by the Centre Party would probably not mean drastic changes in economic and foreign policies, although it is seen as less friendly to the EU than the current government and wants to spend more on welfare.

Ms Jaeaetteenmaeki had seized on the failure of the outgoing SDP-led government to achieve its target of halving unemployment, which is among the highest in Europe.

The main election issues were how to revive the economy, but possible war against Iraq has also become an issue, with most people opposed to conflict.

The Centre Party had accused the government of not doing enough to support a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis.

Country profile: Finland
26 Sep 02  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Finland
06 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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