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The odd threesome – True Finns likely to join coalition— Helsinki

Preface

As the national broadcasting company Yle presented Finland’s parliamentary election result prognosis on Sunday evening, accompanied by a suspense-heightening soundtrack, a collective gasp of breath was drawn all over the country.

Finland, Election

19 April 2011

As the national broadcasting company Yle presented Finland’s parliamentary election result prognosis on Sunday evening, accompanied by a suspense-heightening soundtrack, a collective gasp of breath was drawn all over the country.

Perussuomalaiset (the True Finns), Finland’s nationalist-populist party, had gathered 19 per cent of the votes, quadrupling its support from the previous elections in 2007. It was now almost as big as the country’s biggest party, the National Coalition Party, who garnered 20.4 per cent of the vote.

In the media, reactions to Finland’s election outcome have been worried. Some have compared the True Finns to Europe’s extreme right-wing parties, comparing leader Timo Soini to France’s Marine Le Pen, Holland’s Geert Wilders and Sweden’s Jimmy Åkesson.

Despite having roots in the old Finnish Rural Party of the 1970s and ’80s, and not in the far right nationalist movement, the True Finns’ set of values is far from the liberal, euro-positive discussion that has coloured Finnish politics in recent years. The party wants to restrict immigration and cut development aid, it is against compulsory Swedish language studies in Finnish schools, critical of the EU, against abortion, against gay marriages and even against modern art.

What does the broad support of the party say about the Finns? Clearly, Finland’s current politics has not pleased the population at large. For a long time, the big three – the National Coalition Party, the Social Democrats and the Centre Party – have been gliding towards the political middle, assuming that voters have done the same.

“This party is the voice of the forgotten people. Their rhetoric highlights the difference between the political power elite and the ordinary people. Their success reflects a worry over the fast changing world and a longing for security,” says Mari K Niemi, a researcher of politics at the University of Turku.

With his funny, direct language and populist message, academic and long-term politician Timo Soini has managed to present himself as a man of the people: as a True Finn. Winning more than 43,000 individual votes, he became the most popular candidate in the entire country, despite 80 per cent of the voters not supporting his party.

The new big three – the National Coalition Party, the Social Democrats and the True Finns – are now likely to start discussions about a coalition government. With wildly different answers to the most important questions, what form that will take is anyone’s guess. But it may not be as impossible as it sounds: Finland has a tradition of governments where all parties compromise to some extent. This time, however, the equation is particularly complicated, and will undoubtedly take more time to solve.

Monocle 24

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