Monday, March 19, 2007


A new parliament was elected in Finland yesterday.

This time there was a marked shift to the right, as the centre-right National Coalition gained 10 seats and became the second largest party by overtaking the left-right-left social democrats who lost 8 seats. Other winners were the Green party with 15 seats (+1), the right-populist True Finns with 5 seats (+2) and the Swedish People's Party with 9 seats (+1). Alongside the social democrats, the Left Alliance lost 2 seats. The ruling Centre party also lost 4 seats but maintained the important position as the largest party, although with only one seat difference to the National Coalition or conservatives.

An interesting but not very surprising result. Even from afar, it's been clear that the Green party and the Conservatives had the best campaigns. Both also had positive campaigns, the Greens were proposing new models for social security, the Conservatives wanted to reform the working life. In contrast, the social democrats and their so-called friends in the trade unions were mainly scaring people not to vote for the "right wing" without really explaining what they would do if elected. The rise of the extreme right (in Finnish terms) was based on EU-skepticism and charisma of the leader of the True Finns -party and reflects people's frustration as much as support for the party's program. The phenomenon is the same as in other European countries but the party is still marginal in size and importance and not as openly racist or anti-immigrant as some of it's brothers.

The shift to right (relatively) is a part of a trend, the same happened in the Swedish elections, and is very likely to happen in Britain. The rise of green ideology and growing awareness of climate change boosts not only the green parties but also the new conservatives that have adopted the ideology quicker than the labour/social democrat parties. The latter (at least in Finland) seem to be more concerned about the potential job losses in heavy industry than reducing carbon emissions. In Britain, Gordon Brown is trying to dam the stream of moving voters from Labour to Conservatives by branding the budget proposal that is to be unveiled today as "greenest ever". The other driving force is globalisation, the conservatives have been much more upbeat about it and emphasised the opportunities and needs for reform, while the left has focused on maintaining the status quo.

One interesting phenomenon in these elections was the "return of the dinosaurs". A number of former politicians who have been away from the parliament for a while (in the European Parliament, in the European Investment Bank, as ambassadors, in business...) made a return to the national parliament. I'm in two minds about this. While on one hand it is good to get that experience into the parliament, on the other hand there is a risk of turning back the clock. There is plenty of old stuff that's linked to these people and they are still associated strongly with some of the policies and decisions they made the last time around. They all have their enemies, some among the other dinosaurs, and I hope they can be forward-looking and not let the old things get on the way.

By far the most important question now is, which parties will form the government coalition. It is clear that the basis will be the Centre and the Conservatives, as the former is the largest party and the second the largest winner. While these parties occupy the same centre-right segment of the political spectrum, their programs have marked differences. While the Conservatives are traditionally the most EU-positive party, and in terms of foreign and EU-policies progressive, the Centre party has a strong EU-skeptic faction. Almost automatically the Swedish People's Party will fit in the coalition. The party is above everything else driven by its willingness to compromise and will undoubtedly continue in the coalition, and continue having power beyond their size.

This coalition would have 110 seats, which would be enough to form a government. The big question is, will the Green party be included. They do want to get into the government, they are one of the winners of the election, and in spite of their reputation as being relatively left-wing, many of their policies are actually very close to those of the Conservatives. Both get the majority of their votes from the big cities, both want reform and both are EU-positive. Getting the Green party in the coalition would boost the majority to a very solid 125-75, but issues such as nuclear power and the details of the social policy reforms might turn out to be hurdles too high in the negotiations that start this week.

The other, far more unlikely option would be to include the True Finns to the coalition and thus make it cover the whole right wing, but first of all I don't think the Conservatives or the Centre would be willing to risk giving them the platform (they might be too blunt about their anti-EU and anti-immigration policies and not politically correct in any other way either) and second, I don't think they really want to get into government. For a protest party it is much more beneficial to remain outside so that they can blame everything on the government and just criticise everything, and keep on getting the protest vote, than actually taking responsibility and risk losing the next elections for not being able to deliver their promises.

As always, a number of ex-sportsmen and other celebrities were elected. Some of them will have no impact whatsoever in the parliament, as they are completely clueless as to how things work there, or what they can do and what they can't. Some don't even know what their opinions are. But, as I didn't manage to get to vote this time myself, I'm in no position to complain about other people's choices.

(Pic. YLE)

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