Sunday

24th Jan 2021

Finnish election threatens Portugal rescue

  • True Finns election posters (Photo: heipmann)

Finnish politics has been transformed with the soaring success of the nationalist right in Sunday's general election.

The True Finns, a staunchly anti-EU and anti-immigration party saw their support skyrocket, from five seats in the last election to 39 on the back of almost a fifth of the country's voters.

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On a 70 percent turnout, up from 68 percent in the 2007 vote, the conservative National Coalition Party drew the largest number of votes, with 20.4 percent. This endorsement gives them the most seats in the chamber, on 44, although the party is down six seats on the last election.

The conservatives, whose chief, the current finance minister Jyrki Katainen, will lead the next government, will have to choose between the True Finns and the second-place Social Democrats.

The centre-left Social Democrats also lost three seats, taking them down to 42 mandates, although analysts describe the vote as a defensive success for the party, with the vote up on recent surveys.

The Social Democrats had warmed to the growing anti-EU mood and criticised the recently announced EU-IMF bail-out of Portugal from the right.

The biggest party in the last election, the liberal Centre Party of Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi was the biggest loser of the night, shedding 16 seats, a result that has pushed them into fourth place.

With the second and third biggest parties sharply critical of EU bail-outs of countries viewed by voters as feckless and indigent, the election puts the recent rescue of Portugal in the balance.

The conservatives must choose between a centre-left that wants significant changes to the terms of the bail-out and a nationalist right that rejects the idea outright.

Negotiations with the Social Democrats would certainly be easier, but the conservatives would then be seen as ignoring the clear winners of the night, the True Finns.

Described in some parts of the international press as a ‘far-right' party, the party contests the term and analysts say the ideology of the party is more complicated.

While the party is strongly opposed to immigration and backs a firm law-and-order agenda, the True Finns also back many elements of the welfare state and progressive taxation, putting them more in line with the pot-pourri of ideologies at play in the growing populist mood to the right of the conservative mainstream in Europe.

"We are not extremists, so you can sleep safely," leader Timo Soini told the BBC on Sunday.

Soini also sits as a deputy in the European Parliament. It is unclear as to whether he will keep both posts.

The Greens, the other coalition partner within the outgoing government, also got trounced, losing five of their seats. On the back of the support of 7.2 percent, the party won just ten seats, and are unlikely to sit in the new coalition.

The Left Alliance, a party to the left of the Social Democrats, also saw some of its support bleed away to the True Finn surge, although the party has declined in every election since its 1995 high point.

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The advance of the anti-immigrant and eurosceptic populist True Finns Party, along with the crisis in the euro countries, has shaken up Finland's political landscape ahead of Sunday's general elections, writes Markku Heikkilä.

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