Opposition Center Party wins Finnish election but faces difficult government formation talks

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HELSINKI — The opposition Center Party has won Finland's parliamentary election but its new leader faces tough talks on forming a government following the success of the populist, anti-establishment Finns Party that placed ahead of the main government partners, the conservatives and Social Democrats.

Center Party leader Juha Sipila declared victory in Sunday's election and will take on the role of forming the new ruling coalition, saying he would approach the leaders of the three parties on Monday.

"Tomorrow the phones will be ringing, and we'll work out how to take it from there," Sipila said. "Finding trust between the future government parties is the most important factor."

The self-effacing millionaire businessman, who entered politics four years ago, said the main problem in conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb's current coalition had been a lack of trust among the ruling parties.

He warned that Finland, in the midst of a three-year recession, was in a "difficult" situation. "It will take 10 years to get Finland back into shape," Sipila told reporters.

Stubb had campaigned on economic issues and acknowledged his government had not made sufficient reforms. He has also advocated spending cuts of 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) over the next four years, a proposal strongly opposed by Sipila who says half the amount in cuts would suffice.

Stubb conceded defeat.

"It's a fact that the Center Party has won the election," he said. "Now we have to focus ... on how to get Finland back on track to growth."

Finns Party leader, Timo Soini, who vehemently opposes bailouts for ailing eurozone members and advocates kicking Greece out of the euro, dropped out of government formation talks in 2011 because the other parties supported bailouts.

He described his party's performance on Sunday as a "repeat rumble" of 2011 when they rose from being a tiny political force to become the country's third largest political party, causing a political storm and headache for European countries preparing bailouts for eurozone partners.

Soini declined to discuss whether his party would take part in future government talks.

"We're here in Finland to stay because we are needed," he told shouting and clapping supporters in Helsinki. "Our work has been rewarded; let's reap the benefits."

With all the votes counted, Sipila's center-right party, which traditionally represents farmers and land owners, won 21 percent of the votes giving it 49 seats in the 200-member Parliament —an increase of 14 from the previous election. It was followed by the Finns Party with 38 seats — one less than in 2011.

Stubb's conservative National Coalition party had 37 seats, down seven seats, followed by its main coalition partner, the Social Democrats with 34 seats — eight less than in the previous election.

Four other parties each had less that nine percent of the votes, for the remaining 42 seats.

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Associated Press reporters David Keyton and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.

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