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23rd Jul 2016

Focus

Finnish politics face turbulence

The past months have been tumultuous in Finnish politics with major changes in the composition of the sitting government and now open discussion about early elections.

In April, Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen announced that he would leave his place in the government and his position as chair of the National Coalition Party.

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Whoever becomes the next chair of the party following the party congress later this month will be the next prime minister of Finland. Among the anticipated winners is Alexander Stubb, a former foreign minister and MEP.

With 148,000 votes, Stubb was the voters' favourite at the recent EU election. Next in line was the Finns' Jussi Halla-aho with about 50,000 fewer votes.

Five years ago it was a different story. In the European elections of 2009, Timo Soini, chair of the populist Finns' party, was the individual winner of the elections with more than 130,000 personal votes.

The Finns won two seats, one more than in the last elections, and 12.87 percent of the vote, a far cry from the crushing numbers many in the party had hoped and several percentage points below what the polls said ahead of the elections.

"Party chair Timo Soini was not a candidate and the turnout for the European elections are always lower," says Sami Borg, electoral researcher at the University of Tampere, explaining the result.

The Finns face a problem familiar to many far-right parties in Europe. After shocking Finland in 2011 by beating all poll predictions and gaining more than 19 percent in the national elections, the party has since failed to reach its predicted support in the municipal and now in the European elections.

Borg notes, however, that no hasty conclusions should be drawn about the real support base for the party. The Finns and the Left Alliance were the only parties to make real advances in the elections, of roughly three percent each.

"After 2011 many said the Finns would lose support. It didn't happen and their support in the polls has been more or less steady since then. The question for them is how to mobilise their support now that they have lost their novelty value," Borg says.

A key moment for the party will be the next parliamentary elections, due in April 2015, although they might take place earlier.

In addition to Katainen leaving his post, the second major party of the governing coalition, the Social Democrats (SDP), has done some major refurbishing of its own.

In May the SDP replaced party chair and minister of finance Jutta Urpilainen with union hardliner Antti Rinne after polls showed party support dropping to 15 percent.

But the move did not help the party in the EU vote, where the Social Democrats managed just 12 percent, the worst result the party has had in any election since it was founded in 1899.

The article was amended Wednesday, 4 June, at 20.15 to say that The Finns received 12.87 percent of the vote and not 12 percent as previously stated. And to make clear that Jussi Halla-aho received 50,000 fewer votes than Alexander Stubb, not 50,000 in total.

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