HELSINKI, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Advance voting began in Finland on Wednesday for April's parliamentary election that will shape the country's direction for the next four years.
Voters may cast their ballots either on election day (April 2) or in advance during the early voting period, which will last a week.
Two hundred members are to be elected to the legislature, which makes new laws and changes existing ones. A total of 2,424 candidates were nominated for this year's elections.
According to statistics, in the 2019 parliamentary election, 1.5 million people voted in advance. That is 50.7 percent of those who voted in the election.
For this year's election, competition between the parties is particularly fierce, with three leading parties running almost neck and neck in the opinion polls.
In the latest poll commissioned by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the opposition conservatives led with 20.8 percent, while the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition Finns party were equal at 19.3 percent.
Incumbent Prime Minister Sanna Marin from the Social Democratic Party, conservative leader Petteri Orpo from the National Coalition Party, and Riikka Purra, leader of the Finns Party have nearly equal chances to be leader of the largest party after election night.
Under Finland's parliamentary practice, the chair of the largest party is the first to try to form a coalition government.
A survey conducted by the think tank EVA published on Wednesday showed that 82 percent of Finns think the upcoming government should try to improve access to public health care.
Nearly the same number were concerned with the amount of national debt and the need to balance the state budget.
Finland's state debt is currently at 144 billion euros (155.4 billion U.S. dollars), 72 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The level is not especially high in European Union (EU) comparison, but debt would increase by ten billion euros annually at current spending levels.
The parties do not disagree on the need to improve basic public health but on ways to reduce public debt.
No political party in the country questions the Nordic welfare state system with free education, low-cost health care and societal income security, but the parties disagree on how to finance it. TWO LIKELY COALITION OPTIONS
Traditionally in Finland, the government coalition is formed in lengthy talks after the election.
Marin has on several occasions rejected the possibility of cooperating with the right-wing Finns Party.
The country's current cabinet under Marin is a left-center coalition of the Social Democratic Party, the Center Party, the Green League, the Swedish People's Party and the Left Alliance.
Local commentators now see a red-blue coalition of the Social Democrats and the conservatives or a right-wing coalition of the conservatives and Finns Party as tangible options. Both scenarios could include smaller parties.
However, the likelihood of a right-wing coalition was reduced this week through strong differences over climate measures. The conservatives would keep Finland's current aim of carbon neutrality by 2035, but the Finns Party would push it to 2050.