Juha_Sipilä_2015-03-21

The Centre party leader Juha Sipilä. Photo: Santeri Viinamäki.

Election A centre-right government takes form in Finland

The government will be a centre-right government including three of the four large political parties: the Centre party, the True Finns and the National Coalition party. This is the first time the True Finns are in government and as in several European states a case of when a populist radical right parties contributes to the making of a centre-right government.

Published on balticworlds.com on maj 12, 2015

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The Finnish parliamentary elections in April 2015 did not bring about any surprises. Finnish politics returned to the normal after the exceptional elections of 2011 when the True Finns established themselves as one of four large political parties in the Finnish parliament. In the words of the political weekly the Economist: ”In 2011 Finland broke a long habit and held an interesting election” (The Economist, April 25 2015). Finland returned to its habitual tranquil mode in the parliamentary elections of 2015. However, the process and particularly the outcome of the first round of the governmental negotiations were both surprising and unexpected. After two weeks of initial talks with all the political parties the future Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, from the Centre party, presented the coalition of political parties that will continue negotiating a common governmental platform, and are most likely to form the next Finnish government. The government will be a centre-right government including three of the four large political parties: the Centre party, the True Finns and the National Coalition party. This is the first time the True Finns are in government and as in several European states a case of when a populist radical right parties contributes to the making of a centre-right government.  The social democratic party SDP and all the small political parties are in opposition. The government is unique in that none of the smaller parties is included in the cabinet. For example, the Swedish people’s party has been a party of government since 1979, and is to its own disappointment in opposition for the first time in 36 years.

The electoral results

The political parties that were the opposition during the previous legislature – the Centre party Keskusta (KESK) and the True Finns Perussuomalaiset (PS) – both declared themselves the winners of the elections on Sunday evening when the votes had been counted. The Centre party received 21, 1 per cent of the vote, which was an increase by 5 per cent units compared to 2011, but less than had been predicted in the opinion polls. (http://balticworlds.com/in-the-finnish-parliamentary-elections-2015/). As the largest party and the party with the largest vote increase the Centre party leader Juha Sipilä received the mission to negotiate a basis for the next government. Even though the vote of PS shrinked to 17,7 per cent compared to 19,1 per cent in the 2011 elections the party leader Timo Soini did not hesitate to call the elections a second ”jytky” or a “great victory”, that is, as a follow-up victory following the successful elections of 2011. Due to the Finnish electoral system the PS became the second largest party in terms of parliamentary seats. It is a surprising achievement that the PS successfully consolidated its support in the 2015 elections for two reasons. Firstly, none of the three key issues that explained the PS success in 2011 – anti-EU and immigration, anti-establishment appeals –  belonged to the most important issues for the voters in these elections. Rather, against the background of the deteriorating Finnish economy the electoral campaign revolved largely around traditional socio-economic issues, such as employment, the public debt and economic growth. The success of the PS in 2011 originated in that the party both was successful in the mobilisation of non-voters, and the recruitment of voters that previously voted on the Centre, the social democratic and the conservative party. Despite the fact that the Centre grew electorally the PS maintained a major share of its previous electoral support, which suggests that the PS have attracted voters disappointed with the social democrats, which like in 2011 made its worst electoral result ever.  ”Easy comes, easy goes” seems not to have applied to the PS vote.  Secondly, in addition to the position in opposition that has allowed strong criticism of the highly unpopular government, the True Finns have thanks to the increase in public party funding 2011 been able to build up a party organisation with national presence, efficient channels of communication, and even a proper think tank, the Suomen Perusta. This has been helpful for the consolidation of an electorate and a presence in the public debate.

The Green party that was a member of the previous government increased as well its vote with 1,2 per cent points to 8,5 per cent, and gained five new seats in the Eduskunta. The party was a member of the previous cabinet, but walked out of government as late as in September 2014 as the greens opposed the government decision of the construction of a nuclear power plant by the Russian company Rossatom. The brief period in oppositions seems to have benefited the green party. The Swedish people’s party won votes, but lost one seat in the parliament due to modifications in the distribution of parliamentary seats in the districts

Table 1: Electoral results in per cent and parliamentary seats for the political parties  in the Finnish parliamentary elections of 2011 and 2015.

Party 2015 2011 Diff
Centre 21,1

(49)

15,8

(35)

+6,3

(+14)

KOK 18,2

(37)

20,4

(44)

-2,2

(-7)

True Finns 17,7

(38)

19,1

(39)

-1,4

(-1)

SDP 16,5

(34)

19,1

(42)

-2,4

(-8)

Greens 8,5

(15)

7,3

(10)

+1,2

(+5)

VAS 7,1 8,1 -1
SPP 4.9

(9)

4,3

(9)

+0,6

(0)

KD 3,5

(5)

4,0

(6)

-0,5

(-1)

Others 2,5

(0)

2,0

(0)

+0,5

(0)

Source: www.vaalit.fi

The two main political parties of the previous government, on the other hand, experienced losses. The Prime Ministerial party, the Conservative National Coalition party KOK (Kansallinen Kokoomus), the KOK, received 18,2 per cent of the vote compared to 20,4 in 2011. The social democratic party SDP was even harder punished by the electorate and continued its downward trend. The party made its worst elections since 1917. Like many other European social democratic political parties they face competition from, above all, populist radical right parties and as a party of government.  With 16,5 per cent of the vote the immediate question was if the party leader Antti Rinne would declare that the party withdraws in opposition to rethink and reformulate its policies for a come-back, as was voiced among the grassroots. However, the party leader stated the he wanted to take part in the first round of governmental negotiations and in a typical Finnish parliamentary manner announced that the party was prepared to take responsibility when Finland is experiencing economic hardship. Even though the winners of the elections are expected to form or take part in government, the Finnish open structure of government formation, has allowed political parties that have lost votes to enter the cabinet. This is in the Finnish political vocabulary formulated as “taking responsibilty”. The rationale is obviously that a political party in opposition is powerless in a political system in which majority and surplus majority governments have been the rule: The only way to influence the policymaking is by joining government. However, the SDP stated that is would not join a government with the previous coalition partner the KOK. The vote increase of the Swedish People’s party did not bring about any new seats because of changes in the distribution of seats and the concentration of the SPP vote in electoral districts. The Left Wing Alliance and the Christian Democrats lost votes as well, and received 7,1 and 3,5 per cent of the vote respectively.

The two largest parties in the Finnish parliament have rural roots, namely the Centre party and the True Finns.  Whereas the Centre has survived and thrives well notwithstanding the societal transformations from the agrarian over industrial to a service society, the party is still weak in the urban centres. The Prime Ministerial party, for example, only holds one parliamentary seat in the capital Helsinki. The True Finns have increasingly established themselves in the urban areas after 2011. However, what unites these parties are that they value-conservative and hold centrist socio-economic positions. The value-conservatism is also reflected in that the parliamentary groups of the two parties are the most male-dominated: 29 per cent of the Centre parliamentarians and 32 per cent of the True Finn parliamentarians are women.  83 the 200 parliamentary representatives are women, that is 41,5 per cent. The social democratic party (62 per cent), the Left Wing Alliance (58 per cent) and the Christian Democrats (46 per cent) have a female representation over the average. As Finland employs open list systems with personal voting the voters have greater influence on who gets elected compared to when closed party lists are used and the political parties can utilise zebra-striped informal quotas (“every second candidate is a man or a woman) in order to further parliamentary female representation. Roughly one third of the parliamentarians are newcomers: 62 per cent of the parliamentarians were also members of the previous legislature. The average age of the parliamentary representatives has decreased compared to the previous legislature as well: The average age is 44 for the incoming legislature compared to 49 for the outgoing. (http://www.stat.fi/til/evaa/2015/evaa_2015_2015-04-30_sv.pdf). According to a survey made by the Finnish broadcasting company YLE the parliamentarians elected are more value-liberal compared to  those of the previous legislature, for instance in terms of their views on same-sex marriages, which was a heated issue when the parliament passed the sex-neutral marriage legislation last year. The conservative turn of the parliament is reflected in strong support for keeping the countryside alive and a resistance to welcoming more asylum seekers. 60 per cent of the parliamentarians agree with the statement that Finland should not increase its quota of asylum seekers. (http://svenska.yle.fi/artikel/2015/04/20/sa-ser-den-nya-riksdagen-ut).

The electoral turnout was 70,1 per cent and only dropped slightly with 0,4 per cent compared to 2011 when the turnout for the first time since 1995 raised above 70 per cent. In comparison with the other Scandinavian countries the electoral turnout has been lower in Finland a consequence of that the vote has not been determining for government formation.

A three party government?

All the political parties announced a willingness to take part in the first round of governmental negotiations that were initiated by the Centre party leader Juha Sipilä immediately after the elections. He formulated two crucial preconditions for the political parties that would be entitled to join government: Agreement on the necessary reforms for stimulating the economic recovery and trust between the political parties. The challenges awaiting the new government are to reduce the public debt and stimulate economic recovery without increasing the total tax burden. Consequently, austerity measures rather than stimulation by the means of public investments are ahead (see the pre-electoral analysis for a more detailed account of the economic situation http://balticworlds.com/in-the-finnish-parliamentary-elections-2015/). The quest for trust was in the public debate interpreted as a both a commitment of the political parties to stay in government and endure compromises during the entire legislature and to ensure disciplined parliamentary groups as hard decisions are ahead. The latter requirement had a clear address to the True Finns, which in its present formation, is a newcomer in government. Moreover, the Centre party leader had during the electoral campaign called for broad societal agreement implying that the labour market organisations should be included in the reforms for economic recovery. Tripartite agreements between the state, the employer and employees have survived in Finland contrary to the other Nordic states. The labour market organisations have however by some been considered a major impediment to reform of the labour market in terms of flexibility and the reduction of labour costs for increasing competitiveness. Nevertheless, the future Prime Minister had the ambition to include them in the economic reform program, but his proposals on for example the prolongation of working hours to cut labour costs were met with resistance and the negotiations stranded.  This fact probably impacted on which political parties were selected to form the governmental base that would continue with more detailed negotiations on the governmental programme. The social democratic party, which have been considered a prerequisite for any government wanting to bind up the trade unions in the policy-making was no longer as important as a party of government.

After lengthy bilateral negotiations including a questionnaire with questions covering a wide range of issues – economy, employment, environment, foreign – and security policies, EU and immigration – Juhani Sipilä presented Thursday May 7 the political parties will form the governmental base. A centre-right coalition with the Centre, The True Finns and the National Coalition party will continue the negotiations and with great likelihood form the next Finnish government.  This coalition is obviously more ideologically compact than the previous six-pack coalition that slowly disintegrated during the previous legislature. The three parties are in agreement with the Finance Ministry that in a pre-electoral memorandum envisaged public cuts around six billion euro, as well on that the overall tax level should not increase. However, the parties differ on the targeting of taxes, for instance, the True Finns want to raise the förmögenhetsskatt and remove the car tax. The previous government was not capable of undertaking the regional reform intended to make public services more efficient, and the question is whether the government with its rural-based support will be able to make the necessary decisions. The EU and immigration are issues that divide the coalitions partners. The True Finns rejected government participation after the parliamentary elections of 2011 due to the fact that as a party of government it would have had to accept the support packages to Greece and Portugal. The True Finns have softened up their EU-criticism, for instance at the party congress in 2013 the party did not state that the Finnish exit from the euro-zone was necessary at the moment. However, the True Finn party leaders Timo Soini prefers a light European Union in line with Britain and the Netherlands, and is opposed to further Finnish involvement in the crisis mechanism institutions of the euro-zone. This is in stark contrast to the views of party leader Alexander Stubb of the National Coalition party. The Centre and the National Coalition party want to liberalise labour market immigration by for instance stripping existing legislation that enforces companies that want to employ non-EU residents to consider if a Finnish employee can be hired. The TF wants to maintain this legislation in order to ensure that Finns are prioritised in the labour markets, and they also want to reduce the quotas of asylum-seekers to Finland. With the on-going discussion in the EU on greater solidarity and shared responsabilities for the refugees passing over the Mediterranean this is likely to cause internal tensions within the coalition. The True Finns will both oppose more EU competencies in the field and an increase in asylum seekers to Finland. The status of the Swedish language will also be a question within the coalition: The True Finns, which had formulated  an electoral political platform on language, priorities  in the short run to make Swedish, which is the second official language in Finland, non-obligatory subject in school, and in the long run to render Swedish the status of a minority language. Representatives from the Swedish People’s party have voiced their concerns over how infrastructures serving the Swedish speaking population will be affected with the True Finns in government and the SPP in opposition.

In the coming weeks the three centre-right political parties will continue with detailed negotiations on the governmental programme and the distribution of portfolios. Even though the outcome is not certain, it is quite likely that the centre-right coalition will form. The three-party coalition expected to make hard decision reflects both a socio-economic and value-based right-wing turn in Finnish politics. The leftwing and liberal opposition has promised stark, but constructive criticism of the government. In the public debate concerns have been voiced whether this coalition is capable of adjusting Finland to a globalising world, not only economically, but also socially and mentally.

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