HELSINKI -- Voters in Finland handed Prime Minister Juha Sipila's Centre Party a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections Sunday, while the populist-nationalist Finns Party and left-leaning parties scored gains.
"It is clear that we have lost and I want to congratulate those who won," Sipila said, noting his party was "the biggest loser."
Sipila's center-right coalition had in office pledged a major shakeup of the health and welfare system, a reform that has been debated for over a decade. The government's plan failed to clear legislative hurdles.
Austerity measures that affected pensioners, students and the unemployed also weighed on the ruling coalition's support.
Preliminary results suggested Sipila's party lost 18 seats to finish on 31 in the 200-seat legislature.
The Finns Party and the Social Democrats were in a tight race for first place. With just over 98% of the vote counted, both parties were just under 18%.
With 40 seats, a gain of six, the Social Democrats and its leader Antti Rinne were tipped to get the first attempt to form a government.
The Social Democrats last held the prime minister post in 2003.
"Of course I wanted a better result, I would have liked our result to be at least 20% or more. But with this result we can lead the Finnish people towards a better future," Rinne said.
"We are open to cooperation but not at any cost," said Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho who has led the party since 2017.