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Gazing into the Abyss? The Finnish Parliamentary Elections 2015

On Sunday 19 April 2015 in Finland are scheduled elections for the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/ Riksdagen). Four years ago, in April 2011, the (True) Finns (Party) (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ SF) took Finnish politics by storm polling 19.05% of the votes, consequently increasing its parliamentary presence to 39 members of parliament (MPs) from the previously modest 5 MPs in the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen. Then, the PS/ SF skilfully combined anti-establishment and anti-EU appeals with thinly veiled xenophobic and racist stances. The PS/ SF actively chose a comfortable place on the opposition benches, from where its MPs could constantly criticize the various governmental efforts to navigate through the unfolding economic crisis, without the need to provide clear and feasible policy alternatives. At the same time, the competition between the ‘old’ agrarian populist guard around the PS/ SF chair Timo Soini and the ‘upcoming’ anti-immigration wing coalescing around such controversial figures as Jussi Halla-Aho (now one of the party’s MEPs in Brussels) and Olli Immonen appears to have sharpened. Tellingly, the PS/ SF 2015 election programme indicates, besides the imperative to defend the fatherland and strengthen further the status of Finnish language – an appeal that echoes familiar and comforting even to the moderately nationalist supporters – the need to address the existing Finnish migration policy, which is deemed too permissive and miscalibrated, and enforce a more clearly assimilative stance – an appeal unmistakably aimed to consolidate the party’s hold on the more radical voters.

The PS/ SF electoral strategy seems to have consolidated the party’s position among the 4 largest political parties in Finland. However, the opinion polls suggest the PS/ SF does not enjoy the same level of support as in the 2011 Finnish parliamentary elections and  that it has stagnated around the same level of support as in the 2014 European parliamentary elections (when the PS/ SF polled some 12.87%), hovering around 16%. This notwithstanding, the competition is still open to the PS/SF to qualify as the country’s second largest party, a trend indicated by the latest opinion polls. Indeed, the PS/ SF received some 16.2 to 16.7% in the latest opinion polls (HS/TNS Gallup, respectively YLE/Taloustukimus) whilst the largest party in the present cabinet coalition, the conservative National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Kok/ Samlingspartiet/ Saml) polled between 16.9 and 17% and the Finnish Social-Democrats (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ SDP/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti) show signs of wear-off after being the second largest party in the cabinet, swinging between 15.1 to 17% in the same polls.

Party Election results (April 2011) Opinion poll (HS/TNS Gallup)

(14 April 2015)

Opinion poll (YLE/Taloustutkimus)

(16 April 2015)

Election results (19 April 2015)
National Coalition Party (Kok/ Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet/ Saml) 20.44 17 16.9
Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP/ Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti) 19.15 17 15.1
(True) Finns (Party) (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ SF) 19.10 16.2 16.7
Cetre Party (Kesk/ Suomen Keskusta/ Centern i Finland/ C) 15.80 23 24.0
Left Alliance (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet/ Vf) 8.15 8.5 8.3
Green League (Vihr/ Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet/ G) 7.27 8.1 8.8
Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP) 4.29 4.6 4.6
Christian Democrats (KD/ Kristillisdemokraatit/ Kristdemokraterna) 4.04 3.7 3.5

A lot of speculation in the eve of elections concentrates on the possible cabinet constellations that the most likely elections victors, the Cetre Party (Kesk/ Suomen Keskusta/ Centern i Finland/ C) will attempt to construct. At the moment most likely scenarios consider if the Kesk/ C will pursue a so-called or red-earth cabinet coalition (punamulta/ rödmylla) with the SDP, or a right leaning governmental coalition with what seems to be the election’s main losers, the Kok/ Saml of PM Alexander Stubb. None of these two cabinet constellations will be sufficiently solid, and the question remains if the Kesk/ C will turn to the PS/ SF as a third coalition partner or opt for the traditionally Finnish model of cabinets with surplus parties? A word of caution, however, comes from further afield. In Hungary, the populist radical right Hungarian Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik/ Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom) has won the by-elections in the Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg district on 12 April. The victory of the Jobbik representative in front of the conservatives’ candidate of PM Viktor Orbán in these by-elections are indicated as evidence that formally distancing from the populist radical right, whilst co-opting its strategies is a losing game.

With this in mind, returning to the post-election political landscape in Finland, one can wonder how are the cabinet negotiations going to unfold, if the Kesk/ C is indeed to be confirmed as the largest party in the upcoming elections Sunday 19 April? Will the SDP be willing to erode further is electoral base and to form the backbone of a red-earth government together with the Kesk/ C? Is the Kesk/ C going to seriously pursue a governmental constellation with the PS/ SF? At what costs, considering that both the Left Alliance (Vas/ Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet/ Vf) and the Greens (Vihr/ Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet/ G) have articulated a clear anti-xenophobic and anti-racist alternative? What will happen to Swedish People’s Party (SFP/ Svenska folkpartiet i Finland/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue/ RKP), given the fact that the party managed to be in all governments since 1979? Will the SFP/ RKP accept partaking in a governing coalition together with the PS/ SF, despite their outspoken stance against Finland’s bilingualism and the vitrolic attacks agains the Swedish-speakers by the various PS/ SF rank and file? Above all, considering the rather bleak economic perspectives that Finland is facing, how much of the nativist and xenophobic rhetoric of the PS/ SF is going to be tolerated at the negotiation table?

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Friday, April 17th, 2015 Research No Comments

A Brave New World? The Victory of the True Finns: A Return to Patriarchal Arch-Conservative Parochialism?

After the preliminary results of the 17 April 2011 Finnish parliamentary elections were announced (the final results may be announced on the 20 April 2011, after the recount of the votes), it became obvious that the agrarian Kesk was heading towards a painful loss, pooling only 15.8% of the votes and thus sending only 35 representatives to the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen. This determined former PM Mari Kiviniemi to comment that the Kesk needs to prepare for a mandate in the opposition. A similar argument was put forward by the Vihr’s chairwomen Anni Sinnemäki, because of the party’s performance (it lost 5 MPs).

Jyrki Katainen, the Kok leader and most probably the future Finnish PM, was threading very carefully last evening when it became clear that his party was heading to a historical victory. He acknowledged that the situation was a very difficult one, and that negotiations will be very though. Concomitantly he maintained that Finland will continue its pro-European course (on BBC News, here). The other winning party of last night’s elections, the SDP voiced though its chairwoman Jutta Urpilainen their interest in being involved with the governing act. Urpilainen added that since the PS has been scoring so high in the voters’ preferences, the party should be invited to the government-coalition talks. Interestingly, Timo Soini of the PS, took a rather strong stance, arguing he would not negotiate on the other parties’ terms but on his own, adding that one option would be that the PS to recruit its ministers from outside the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här).

Together the three parties (Kok, SDP, PS) will have some 125 MPs, a relatively secure majority. Nonetheless, if to strive to have past the 130MPs and thus avoid unexpected opposition from their own rank and file, the new government would need to be enlarged to incorporate another, small party. Which one will this be? There are two separate options that indicate, even if only tentatively, the road Finland would engage on.

One option would be to co-opt the KD, which nowadays lies very close to the PS in terms of social values (a staunch patriarchal conservatism has been defining the new KD, since Päivi Räsänen assumed leadership of the party). However, this would sum up to only 131 MPs, and this raises the question if the Kok will agree with such an arch-conservative swing?

A second option – which was already formally dismissed by Timo Soini today (in Finnish, tässä) – would be to co-opt the SFP/ RKP in the new government. The party has succeeded so far to represent in the government the interests of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland since 1979. The coalition (Kok, SDP, PS, SFP/ RKP) would have 134 MPs, a safe majority.Having in mind that the Kok and SFP/ RKP are both pro-European and have a relatively liberal agenda will the Kok, in this context force the presence of the SFP/ RKP in the new government, and thus ensure a balance to the PS? So far the SDP has been in favour of the PS in government, but also defended the rights of the Swedish-speaking minority. How would this materialize in the governmental negotiations? Will the SDP and Kok defend the country’s bilingualism and resist the PS’ demands to do away with SFP/ RKP as a coalition partner and in time eventually turn Finland into a monolingual polity?

Women in the Finnish Parliament: At least there are some?

The 2011-2015 mandates for the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen appear to be divided between men (57%) and women (43%) so that it slightly favours men (updated continuously, numbers may change; link in Finnish, tässä). Nonetheless, at a closer look there are big discrepancies between the parties. According the preliminary results posted on 18 April 2011, the PS has 11 women MPs out of a total of 39 (only 28.2%). This is a rather low percentage – compare it to the 5 women MPs out of the total of 9 that the SFP/ RKP has; the 6 women out of 14 MPs that the Vas, or the 5 women MPs out of the 10 MPs that the Vihr got into the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen – and reflects the PS’ overall view on the role of women in the Finnish society. This may be interpreted as a threatening sign for the ‘state-feminism’, which characterized Finland and its welfare system for the past decades. Furthermore, the PS is deeply conservative when it comes to such issues (anti-abortion stance, vociferously against gay marriages and gay adoptions), and the question that comes up is how will women’s issues and the topic of gender equality and anti-discrimination issues in general be handled by the coming cabinet?

Espousing Anti-Immigration Opinions from a Ministerial Post?

There is a lot of speculation about the coming government, and there are a lot of people wondering who is going to land in which ministerial post? If the PS is decided to negotiate from a firm position as Timo Soini has said, is there to be expected that a PS party member will land the position of Minister of Migration and European Affairs? Will Jussi Halla-aho‘s expressed will (in Swedish, här) to be named into the function be taken into consideration? Furthermore, one needs to bear in mind that Halla-aho was the PS vote magnet in the capital Helsinki/ Helsingfors and cumulated 14,884 individual votes (only Paavo Arhinmäki from Vas received more: 17,099 in this electoral district). Halla-aho distinguished himself through the very acid statements against Islam, and against immigration (especially against the Somali refugees) in general. He has been tried in 2009 on charges of incitement against an ethnic group and breach of the sanctity of religion. He was eventually convicted for disturbing religious worship, and ordered to pay a fine (in Swedish, här); his firs appeal was rejected (in Swedish, här); the appeal to the Supreme Court resulted in a discharge of the accusation of incitement to ethnic hatred (in Finnish, tässä). In this context, what would the choice of Halla-aho as a minister in the future cabinet, and even more so, as a minister of integration, signal to the rest of the world?

Finnish parties in the Eduskunta/ Riksdagen listed alphabetically and their respective number of seats:
KD (Kristillisdemokraatit/Kristdemokraterna/ The Christian Democrats) 6 MPs
Kesk (Keskusta/ Centerpartiet/ The Center Party) 35 MPs
Kok (Kansallinen Kokoomus/ Samlingspartiet/ The National Coalition Party)44 MPs
PS (Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna/ The True Finns) 39 MPs
SDP (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue/ Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti/ The Social Democrats)42 MPs
SFP/RKP (Svenska folkpartiet/ Suomen ruotsalainen kansanpuolue /The Swedish People’s Party) 9+1 MPs
Vas (Vasemmistoliitto/ Vänsterförbundet/ The Left Alliance) 14 MPs
Vihr (Vihreä liitto/ Gröna förbundet/ The Greens) 10 MPs

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Monday, April 18th, 2011 Research No Comments