The Finnish political landscape has completely changed overnight as the party of Timo Soini, the “True Finns”, turned out the big winners in the elections, earning 19 percent of the vote against just four percent in 2007. The National Coalition Party, which picked up 20.4 percent of the vote, has been the largest party for years, but what can its chairman and current Minister of Finance, Jyrki Katainen, do?
To judge by the results of the ballots alone, by the middle of June Finland should have a government put together by Katainen, Soini and Jutta Urpilainen, the chair of the Social Democratic Party [which won 19.1 percent]. But Katainen, who is heading the negotiations, is confronted with a tough case. The differences in percentage between the parties are minimal, and Soini, the big winner, will stand his ground.
Plenty of hard bargaining will have to take place before Katainen, Urpilainen and Soini can hash out the future government’s programme. At the centre of the battle is the bailout package for Portugal. The opinions of the SDP and the True Finns [both parties oppose European bailouts] are known, but what will the National Coalition do?
The grapes of victory have been sweet, so far
If Brussels does not budge and Katainen sticks to his guns, will Soini and Urpilainen form a government together? The situation is complicated because Soini has to be in the game, and the Centre party ought to depart for the opposition benches. The defeat of the Centre [the party of outgoing Prime Minister got only 15.8 percent] is a historic event as important as the victory of the True Finns.
Analysing the outcome of the election will take more time. It is too early to say whether politics in Finland have truly changed, or if the route taken by Soini will be identical to that of his forerunner, Veikko Vennamo. While Vennamo was the party chairman of the Finnish Rural Party, the True Finns’ predecessor, he got the party into parliament, but as a political force it was soon spent.
In the wake of their victory the True Finns have enormous hopes. If the party fails to stay united, however, Soini’s mission will be a tough one indeed. If the new delegates from the True Finns remain disciplined and show a sense of realpolitik, cooperation between the parties can flourish.
What the vote has revealed is a desire for change. The risk is that if Soini cannot hold onto the reins of his party and a deal cannot be worked out with the other parties, that failure to cooperate may be seen as a show of contempt for the wishes of the population.
The grapes of victory have been sweet, so far. It remains to be seen whether the fruit can cling to the vine through the months ahead.
EU under pressure
“The triumph of the populist Finnish right could prove a problem for the EU,” writes a concerned Die Welt, recalling that the leader of the True Finns, Timo Soini, once declared that “we have been too soft toward Europe. This must change.” Now that his party may take a seat in government, the German newspaper notes that “the financial rescue funds can work only with the unanimous backing of all EU members.” The True Finns, however, have categorically ruled out supporting the “EU squanderers”. Referring to the discussions on aid for Portugal in crisis, Jyrki Katainen, current finance minister and head of the National Coalition, the party that topped the polls, stated that “if there are reasonable people around the table and we are discussing the interests of Finland, solutions will always be found.”