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Sanna Marin: Who is Finland’s prime minister?

Young leader determined to enjoy relatively normal life despite pressures of high office and inevitable criticism from opposition

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 19 January 2023 09:43 GMT
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Finland divided over partying prime minister

Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin is used to being under a harsh spotlight. Late year, she came under fire after a video of her drinking and dancing at a house party with friends was leaked online.

Ms Marin, 37, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the youngest PM in Finland’s history when she ascended to the top job in December 2019, can be seen in the clip partying to songs by rapper Petri Nygard and pop singer Antti Tuisku.

Also visible in the footage, according to Finland’s Iltalehti newspaper, are a number of Finnish celebrities including the singer Alma, social media influencer Janita Autio, TV host Tinni Wikstrom, YouTuber Ilona Ylikorpi, radio host Karoliina Tuominen, stylist Vesa Silver and another MP from Ms Marin’s own party, Ilmari Nurminen.

Opposition politicians were quick to capitalise on the affair, which some conservative Finns appear to believe amounts to unbecoming conduct in a political leader and called for the PM to take a drug test over claims the word “jauojengi” is used in the video, possibly an allusion to cocaine.

Ms Marin, who spearheads a coalition of five parties, quickly expressed her willingness to oblige, declaring: “I have nothing to hide. I have never taken drugs.

“Personally, I did not take drugs, nor did I consume anything other than alcohol. I danced, sang, and partied – perfectly legal things. And I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve seen or known of others [using drugs].”

She explained that the video was filmed recently after a night out in Helsinki and added: “I am upset that these videos have become public. It was about me having a night out with friends. Partying – even in a boisterous way – dancing and singing.”

She has since returned a negative test, seemingly putting an end to the controversy, only for another leak to force another apology, this time a photograph of two topless influencers kissing each other at her official residence.

Throughout her premiership, Ms Marin has made a point of spending her free time with friends just like others her age, even though this has meant frequent (and inevitable) criticism that she spends too much time at music festivals and not enough governing, particularly now that Finland, like much of the rest of Europe, is battling high electricity bills.

“I want to show that there are ordinary people with ordinary lives in these jobs. I have a family life, I have a work life and I have free time to spend with my friends,” she has said.

The PM was last in the news for partying in 2021 when she went to a nightclub despite recently having been in contact with foreign minister Pekka Haavisto, who had just contracted Covid-19.

Sanna Marin has expressed her disappointment that the private footage was made public (Andrew Medichini/AP)

She issued a lengthy statement apologising on Facebook and said that she was “really sorry” for her actions after photographs of her dancing till 4am were published by an entertainment magazine.

Ms Marin has also faced criticism for posing for a photograph with Janne Raninen, a former hitman who spent two decades in prison for two gang-related murders.

More positively, she has also been hailed for her stand against Russia in the ongoing war in Ukraine and has been at the forefront of efforts to make Finland and Sweden a part of Nato in light of the conflict.

A Helsinki native born on 16 November 1985, Ms Marin’s father Lauri Marin reportedly struggled with alcoholism and left her mother, who subsequently came out and raised Sanna with her girlfriend.

As a teenager, Ms Marin graduated from Pirkkala High School and then from the University of Tampere with a degree in Administrative Science, working as a baker and cashier to support her studies.

Sanna Marin with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office)

Her political career began when she joined the Social Democratic Youth in 2006, an organisation she became the vice president of in 2010 before running in the Tampere city council elections in 2012 and winning.

Soon serving as chair of the council, she was also elected to the Finnish parliament in 2015 and, by June 2019, had already become minister for transport, a whirlwind ascent that ended with her succeeding SDP leader Antti Rinne as prime minister later that year and becoming the world’s third-youngest ever in the process, behind only Dritan Abazovic of Montenegro and Gabriel Boric of Chile.

Twelve of the 19 members of her first Cabinet were women and she has impressed on the world stage by calling out China’s persecution of its Uighur Muslims and Vladimir Putin’s invasion, visiting Kyiv to stand shoulder to shoulder with Volodymyr Zelensky.

She married her partner Markus Raikkonen while in office in August 2020 and the couple have a daughter, Emma.

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