May 23, 2018 / 8:40 AM / 3 months ago

Finnish poll leaders rule out working with nationalists after vote

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The two leading candidates to become Finland’s next prime minister signalled on Wednesday they would not work with the eurosceptic Finns Party after 2019 elections, hitting the nationalists’ chances of returning to government.

FILE PHOTO: Finland's Finance Minister Petteri Orpo speaks to the media in Helsinki, Finland, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Tuomas Forsell/File Photo

Antti Rinne, the head of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said it was “very difficult to imagine that we would go into a government with the Finns Party,” in a meeting with reporters.

Finance Minister Petteri Orpo told the same event there had been no change in policy since his co-ruling National Coalition Party (NCP) and Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party threw the Finns Party out of government last year because of its new hardline anti-immigration chairman.

The Finns Party - which was a rising force in Finnish politics as recently as 2015 with the clout to complicate euro zone bailout talks four years earlier - has split into two since it left government and has seen its support level off.

There was no immediate reaction from the party on Wednesday.

Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho has said he wants Finland to cut immigration and leave the European Union. He has proposed sanctions against organisations that rescue refugees and immigrants from the Mediterranean, saying they only encourage more migrants.

In the latest opinion poll by Helsingin Sanomat daily, the Social Democrats ranked the most popular party with a support of 21.2 percent. NCP came in second with 20.5 percent.

The Finns Party was the sixth biggest with a support of 7.7 percent. The moderately nationalist Blue Reform group, which split away from the Finns last year and kept its government seat, has a support of just 1.7 percent.

Prime Minister Sipila’s Centre party had a poll support of 15.7 percent.

The national election takes place in April 2019. Finland has a long tradition of majority governments and the next government will likely include two of the three biggest parties

FILE PHOTO: People walk at the Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland, May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl

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