Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Finnish General Election: another blow for Nato and the EU

Having suffered a series of blows in the last few years, most notably the unforseen consequences of its coup d'état in the Ukraine, Nato will be reeling this morning from the results of Finland's general election, which has been won by Keskusta, the Centre Party. It now looks likely that Juha Sipilä will be appointed as prime minister if he can form a coalition.

It's also another blow for the European Union, with the anti-EU Finns Party (formerly the True Finns), a sort of Finnish version of Ukip, holding the balance of power. In Finland, the largest party in parliament generally nominates the Pääministeri, with Cabinet positions being dished out to other parties depending on their importance for keeping the Head Minister in power.

Alexander Stubb is in the Gordon Brown position, bless him - he was appointed as chairman of the governing Kansallinen Kokoomus only last year, and at the earliest possible opportunity, the Finns have kicked the poor chap out of office, and his party has finished third.

The final number of seats won in the Eduskunta by each party is as follows, with 100 needed for a majority:

Keskusta, the Centre Party: 49 (+14);
Perussuomalaiset, the Finns: 38 (-1);
Kansallinen Kokoomus, the National Coalition: 37 (-7);
Suominen Socialidemokraattinen, the Social Democrats: 34 (-8);
Vihreä Liitto, the Greens: 15 (+5);
Vasemmistoliitto, the Left Alliance: 12 (-2);
Svenska folkpartiet, the Swedish National Party: 9 (-);
Kristillisdemokraatit, the Christian Democrats: 5 (-1);
and there is also a solitary M.P. for the autonomous Åland republic, who generally sits with the Sfp.

Disappointingly, Santa's constituency in Lapland didn't vote for the Left Alliance, instead throwing out its Kokoomus MP and replacing her with a Centre MP. 

The Centrists, like the UK and Australian Liberals, are rather misleadingly named: they're a right-wing Eurosceptic group dedicated to increasing austerity in Finland by advocating wage freezes for public sector workers and public spending cuts. 

Timo Soini, the leader of Finnkip, ran his election campaign on the issue of opposition to further bailouts for the Hellenic Republic, and is likely to insist on stringent fiscal controls for the Euro as part of any coalition deal. They are eurosceptic in both senses: being against both membership of the Union and the Euro (although they are no longer calling for an exit from either in the short-term). 

European Union membership is not universally popular in Finland: the government was obliged to hold a referendum on membership, which only scraped past with the In side on 56,9% of the vote and the Out side on 43,1. A separate referendum in Åland had 73,6% in favour of joining. In contrast, the United Kingdom's - a country generally regarded as obstreperous and eurosceptic - referendum on joining Europe attracted 67,2% in favour of joining with only 32,8% being against. Perussuomalaiset have found a niche in the market for an anti-European party.

It's not at all unlikely, furthermore, that the defeated Head Minister, Alexander Stubb, will take part in the Cabinet: together, Keskusta, Perussuomalaiset, and Kansallinen Kokoomus, all parties from the right or centre-right, have a majority whereas a coalition involving only Keskusta and Perussuomalaisetwould be 13 seats short, needing support from the Left (although it's likely that the Sfp. and Christian Democrats could be prevailed upon to support the government on a vote-by-vote basis). 

The Scandinavian kingdoms have tended towards a cordon sanitaire approach to populist parties such as Perussuomalaiset since their emergence into the various parliaments, but Finland, whilst being Nordic, has always stood slightly apart from the other Nordic states: where they are kingdoms, Finland is a republic; where they are Scandinavian, Finland is Fennian and Karelian; where their languages are similar, Finnish is Nordically unique; and where they traditionally look to Europe, Finland has always looked to Moscow rather than Brussels. And carrying on this degree of separation from the other Nordic states, Sipilä has made clear that he will not rule out Perussuomalaiset participating in the new government. In terms of realpolitik, of course, he'd be mad to, because if he did, they'd be likely to vote alongside an alternative coalition out of spite. 

Sipilä has, according to Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, already begun informal coalition talks with "other political leaders", likely to be Soini and Stubb, ahead of government formation talks due to begin next week. Sipilä has promised to bring a government programmed before Eduskunta within a month. It is considered likely in Finland that he will govern the country in a Blair-style "kitchen cabinet" way given his technocratic experience as chief executive of various large companies. He is expected to govern almost as a chief executive, in fact, with Eduskunta responding to his wishes. And in Finland, the Head Minister has a great degree of power, with the unwritten division of responsibilities being that the President has responsibility over foreign affairs and the Head Minister a great deal of latitude in internal affairs. One might see it as akin to the Blair/Brown relationship in the years of New Labour.

It's the worst result in the history of the Social Democrats, and it looks extremely unlikely, if not politically impossible, that they can be represented in the new government. Taking the Social Democrats and Left Alliance together, the Left-wing parties lost ten seats in total and now hold only 23% of Eduskunta. Finland is in, clearly, for five years of austerity and populism as the economy grinds to a shuddering halt. 

In terms of gender representation, the new Eduskunta brings good news - 41,5% of all new MPs are female, with the Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Left Alliance all having a majority of woman MPs. The Greens and Coalition are not far behind, with 46,7% and 43,2% of their MPs being female respectively. The Swedes, Centre and Finns trail in with roughly a third of their MPs women. Helsinki also sent two immigrant MPs to Eduskunta of its 22 seats: Nazima Razmyar of the Social Democrats, and Ozan Yanar from the Greens, born respectively in Afghanistan and Turkey. Finland has previously elected legislators born to foreign parents in Finland, or born in neighbouring Sweden (such as the outgoing Åland MP, Elisabeth Nausiér) and Estonia, but never a non-Nordic immigrant.

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