HELSINKI: Finland goes to polls next Sunday with a buoyant economy but questions as to how long the good times can last, as its ageing population strains social services with prime jobs being lost to developing countries.
A new government will have to confront the twin problems of rising costs as increasing numbers of people retire, and of having a smaller workforce which can pay for it all.
While the home of the Nokia mobile phone is a regular topper on most surveys on economic competitiveness, there is no escaping the fact that it is also facing increasing heat from countries with lower wages.
The mainly rural-based Centre Party of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen led the latest opinion poll, followed by its ruling coalition partners in the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Finance Minister Eero Heinaluoma, an ex-union leader.
But close behind the SDP was the conservative opposition National Coalition party. And with all three polling between 21 - 25% support, a coalition is a foregone conclusion for the next four years and for some analysts the main point is who runs second on March 18.
The government has made a pledge to create 100,000 jobs, but critics say this may be difficult to achieve. They point to a strong world economy and that despite many new lower-paid service positions, there have been big losses in the paper and pulp and high technology industries.
Finland ran a near 3% budget surplus last year and politicians see similar forecasts for 2007 as offering room to spend more or to cut taxes.
The main parties have pledged to boost health services and care for the aged -- two top issues in Finland, which has the most rapidly ageing population structure in Western Europe.
While the Social Democrats have not put a figure on their tax thoughts, the National Coalition wants cuts that would amount to nearly 2% of GDP during the next four years.