18 April, 2011

The Finnish Parliamentary Elections 2011: True Finns romp to landslide victory

This time around the Finnish Parliamentary elections certainly were interesting. On the face of it, several historical things happened simultaneously: the Centre Party has never fared so badly since 1972 in terms of seats, and since 1917 in terms of votes. The National Coalition Party emerged with as the largest party from the election for the first time in history – despite losing six seats. The Greens also got a bloody nose, losing five seats and ending up with ten. The 42 seats going to Social Democrats is the worst result in the party’s whole history. The defining, and most historical, factor naturally is the rise of the True Finns. Ending up with 19% of votes and 39 seats (in comparison with 4% and 5 seats in 2007) is sensational. Personally, I belong to the group of people, who are pretty much against most of what the True Finns stand for. But I’ll forget about that for this analysis, and focus on the implications of the result.

Interpreting the result and especially its meaning for the politics for the next 4 years certainly is intriguing. A good starting point is to try to analyze, which parties might end up forming the coalition government.
As the above table summarizes, instead of the normal “the big three” Finns have now a quirky “the big four” on their hands. After the election the largest party (eg. NCP this time) starts talks with other parties about forming the coalition government. Traditionally this has often meant two of the three big ones, supplemented by some smaller parties to achieve majority. This time it won’t be even mathematically that simple. The aim is to get a majority government, but it’s going to mean several concessions from the coalition partners.

The bashing of the Centre Party and the Greens means these two are already out of the picture. NCP with just Social Democrats would rack up 86 seats, needing still at least 15 to achieve a theoretical majority. The SPP and the CD would bring just that, but a majority that slim would not work in reality. And the Left Alliance I can hardly see in coalition with the NCP. That leaves only NCP with Social Democrats and True Finns as a viable option from the NCP point of view. That would make already a majority of 125 seats, even without the help of smaller parties.  A coalition of these three would undoubtedly be very odd, consisting of the most pro-EU and the most anti-EU parties of the parliament. 

Admittedly, another option would be a coalition of Social Democrats, True Finns, Left Alliance, Swedish People’s Party and the Christian Democrats, but they would only have a majority of 111. Also, the True Finns are advocating for the abolition of mandatory Swedish in the upper secondary school, something the Swedish-Finns are naturally heavily against. Another factor against this option is the simple political reality that NCP won the election and is understandably rather keen to stay governing. However, if the differences with them and the True Finns are deemed unsolvable, there might be a slight possibility of the NCP throwing in the towel and going to opposition. Although, last time the winning party has not been included in government was 1958, when the Democratic Union of the Finnish Nation (SKDL) was not accepted in government due to Soviet Union pressure.

Regardless of the actual composition of the government, the True Finns are likely to be involved anyway. I can’t see other parties having much choice: a landslide victory of this scale cannot be left unnoticed. The obvious issues with the True Finns are first and foremost EU-related. The True Finns are very eurosceptic, against Euro bailouts and even at times using quite harsh language even considering Euro itself. The challenge of the upcoming government will be to find a line all the governing parties can tread more or less comfortably. That means either True Finns have to forget about their euroscepticism (or at least play it down) or other parties have to harden their line. With the pro-EU NCP going head to head with True Finns I’ve no idea who emerges victorious when the dust settles. Social Democrats are somehow caught in the crossfire, as they have traditionally been quite pro-EU, especially in the Lipponen era, but have just now gotten more critical about the bailouts. A possible solution might be to advocate debt restructuring, as the German Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer did earlier this month. Restructuring Greek’s debts and forcing bondholders to a haircut might be a solution that both True Finns and NCP could swallow, especially with support from Germany and other countries with a big role in the bailout decision. I don’t think the key agenda of the True Finns is to make EU pay, it’s more to avoid EU making us pay. Therefore, I believe a bondholder haircut would suffice for them.

Immigration laws are another thing the True Finns have popularized. That has already affected the main parties’ views, and in a recent interview with German journalists True Finn leader Timo Soini said “we will follow the same line” [as previous government] on immigration. Although I must admit there has been some discussion in the blogosphere whether it was just an attempt to play down the xenophobic image before election or a genuine policy promise. I guess we will see the answer soon enough.

Following the explosion of commentary in Internet yesterday I saw a lot of mixed reactions. Responses ranged from “I’ll move abroad – really” to “The tables are turned! Down with the old behemoth parties!”, portraying the divisions over True Finns’ policies. Despite – or maybe because of – that, there is one clear victor in this battle: democracy. Personally, I don’t like this result, but I still have to accept it: 70,4 % of Finns voted, being the best percentage since 1995. I’ve seen, read and heard more political debates than in a long time (well, a long time for my age, at least) and noticed increasing interest in young people, too. I hope this will mark the reversing of young people’s interest in politics. This time nine under 30-year-olds were selected into the Parliament, but the average age of an MP hardly nudged. Still, there is hope of that changing in the future, if the young are getting more into politics. The baby boomers are getting older and it’s up to the young to pull Finland back together. Democracy will be the only way to do it.

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