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Sanna Marin, set to be Finland's youngest-ever prime minister, seeks to heal rifts and create jobs

Bloomberg

Finland is set to get its youngest-ever prime minister.

Sanna Marin, 34, won the backing of the Social Democratic Party on Sunday, with 32 votes against 29 for rival Antti Lindtman. The parliament is set to vote on the position on Tuesday.

Marin, the current minister for transport and communications, will preside over a five-party coalition that Sunday agreed to keep working to advance its existing policy program, following the shock resignation of its prime minister last week. She faces a tough task to heal a rift in the Cabinet that emerged as Antti Rinne was forced out on Dec. 3 after his key ally in government lost confidence in him.

Marin becomes the third female prime minister for the Nordic nation. She demonstrated her leadership earlier this year when she stood in for Rinne while he was recovering from a serious illness before the elections.

There are peculiarities to Finland’s parliamentary tradition, which led to about 60 Social Democrats being in a position to pick the country’s next prime minister.

First, snap elections are a distant possibility and not automatically triggered by the government’s resignation. Second, parties have considerable leeway in selecting their own ministers.

Marin says her first task will be to forge trust with coalition partners.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to rebuild trust,” she told reporters after the party vote. “We are still committed to a common policy program, and that’s the glue that unifies us as the government.”

Weighing on the Cabinet are its plunging poll ratings. Almost a quarter of Finns would now vote for the opposition anti-immigration Finns party, making it the country’s most popular. The Social Democrats and its main government ally, Center Party, were each backed by just over 10 percent of the population in the latest survey by YLE.

The Social Democrats are particularly hampered by the country’s aging population, with pensioners making up a huge chunk of its backing. With public finances under stress from fewer working-age people, the party’s traditional platform — a generous welfare society — is increasingly threatened.

The government has based the fiscal sustainability of its policy program on the premise that it will manage to create at least 60,000 jobs just as economic growth is set to cool. A further headwind will come from trade union demands for pay increases that may weigh on the competitiveness of Finnish exports.

“The government’s road won’t be easy,” Marin said. “That’s OK. I’ve proven my abilities.”