The Finnish Election

Article excerpt

UNTIL April 2011, it's safe to say that even committed politicos in the UK would have been hard pressed to name a Finnish political party, let alone a Finnish politician. Tucked away in the northeast comer of Europe, the sparsely populated land of five million has made keeping its head down into an art form. It was, many believe, Finland's quiet compliance that helped it to survive the Cold War. It was the same ability to co-operate that made it an ideal EU candidate, permitting it to join up in 1995, after Finns voted 'Yes' in a referendum.

Yet as Sunday 17 April 2011 approached, everything changed. Finland and the Finnish election were reported in the international press as more than Reuters filler articles. There was detailed analysis, even the odd opinion piece. An article on the BBC website implied that the only party whose vote increased, True Finns, shared policies with the Nazis. The Guardian wailed over the ascent of Finland's 'far right'. And with the result even more dramatic than expected, the Daily Telegraph's Dan Hannan, a eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament, was gleeful, while the Swedish tabloids descended into apoplexies over what had happened in what was their colony until 1809. They reported that Finland's Swedish-speaking minority of 5 per cent would be beaten up in the streets of Helsinki for speaking their language; their neighbour was 'turning inwards' and other parties should be 'ashamed' for even contemplating working with the 'anti-Europe, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, xenophobic' True Finns.

Even in the US press, True Finns, and its leader, the Millwall-supporting, Catholic-convert Timo Soini, were big news. The only significant anti-EU party in Finland, they were adamant that they would oppose bailing out any more failing Euro-states, in a country where such decisions had to be passed by parliament. Hardworking Finns, Soini argued, were not responsible for the mismanagement, poor foresight and laziness of southern Europe. A Portuguese newspaper published a cartoon with Portugal as a beggar and Finland saying to 'Lord EU' 'Don't give them any money, they'll only spend it on drugs'. The Wall Street Journal had Soini pen a forthright article for them on his anti-EU views.

The rise of Perussuomalaiset, which literally translates as 'Basic Finns', was rapid. In the 2003 election, True Finns garnered three seats out of 200 in the Finnish Parliament, which uses the same PR system of multi-member regions that Britain uses for EU votes, except with open lists. In 2007, True Finns got five seats and 4 per cent of the vote, keeping them as the smallest party in the Eduskunta. But in 2011, against all expectations, they humiliated the Centre Party of the 42-year-old Prime Minister, Mari Kiviniemi, pushing the group which had dominated Finnish politics since independence from Russia in 1917 from first place to fourth. On the evening of the election, a portion of the country simply despaired. Voi ei! ('Oh no!') seemed to be the Facebook update of choice amongst young, left-leaning Finns. Before the final result was even declared, a tongue-in-cheek Facebook page had been set up, by Finns living in London, offering asylum to compatriots who felt they could no longer live in the land of their birth.

True Finns had been riding high in the polls for about six months, having dramatically shot up to 10 per cent in September 2010. Every month, the new Gallup results were eagerly awaited, as True Finns continued to climb. They usually put True Finns narrowly in fourth, the opposition Social Democratic Party in third, the co-governing Centre Party (wet conservatives/liberals) second and Kokoomus (freemarket conservatives) first. In March 2011, there was a ripple of excitement as True Finns, now on 18 per cent, pushed the SDP into fourth, leading many to write off its 35-year-old leader Jutta Urpilainen. The real Gallup results actually put True Finns in first place, but these were 'adjusted' because it was believed that the party's support was unstable. …