Finnish voters dealt a blow Sunday to Europe's plans to rescue Portugal and other debt-ridden economies, ousting the pro-bailout government and giving a major boost to a euroskeptic nationalist party.
With 99 percent of votes counted, the biggest vote-winner was the conservative National Coalition Party, part of the current center-right government and a strong advocate for European integration.
But with 43 seats it had only one more than the opposition Social Democrats, while the nationalist True Finns gained 33 seats for 39 in the 200-member Parliament, the official preliminary results showed.
The anti-immigration and staunchly euroskeptic True Finns oppose bailouts for Portugal and other cash-strapped European countries, while the Social Democrats have called for changes to how they are funded.
If the election result is confirmed, conservative leader Jyrki Katainen would have to form a coalition government with at least one of them, raising questions about Finland's future support for rescue packages that require unanimous approval in the 17-member eurozone.
"This result will give Europe gray hairs," political analyst Olavi Borg said. "It will cause them problems over the bailout funds."
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.
The sharp rise of the True Finns represents a watershed moment in Finnish politics, which have traditionally been dominated by the Social Democrats, Center and National Coalition parties.
"This is really good. This is a historic change," True Finns leader Timo Soini said as the votes were counted.
The biggest loser was Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi's Center Party, dropping 15 seats and a quarter of the support it had in the last election in 2007.
"It would appear to be a crushing defeat for us," she said, adding her party would go into opposition.
In a last-minute plea for voters to back parties that support bailouts, industrial organizations emphasized that the small, export-dependent economy would be threatened if the financial crisis in Europe spreads. The full, front-page advertisement in Finland's leading daily, Helsingin Sanomat, said that exports provide jobs for up to 1 million people and guarantee the country's well-being.
"The bailouts are a bit complicated and problematic for voters but there is really no alternative," said Mikko Partanen, 65, a retired businessman who voted for the conservatives.
Finland has pledged about euro8 billion ($11.5 billion) in guarantees of a total euro440 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.
"We are five-and-a-half million people," said Tuula Kuusinen, a True Finn candidate campaigning in Helsinki. "We have to stop giving money to every other country. We just can't afford it."
© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.