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The new and still rather young (40) Prime Minister, Jyrki Katainen, has been criticized for taking so long to form the new cabinet. Photo: STT-Lehtikuva/statsrådets kansli.

Election After two months. surprising new government in Helsinki

Immediately after the Finnish parliamentary elections on April 17, which resulted in a smashing victory for the populist True Finns Party, but left the National Coalition Party with the largest number of seats in Parliament, most observers had expected that the three largest parties would form the new government. But after a couple of weeks it became evident that this would not work.

Published on balticworlds.com on augusti 1, 2011

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Immediately after the Finnish parliamentary elections on April 17, which resulted in a smashing victory for the populist True Finns Party, but left the National Coalition Party with the largest number of seats in Parliament, most observers had expected that the three largest parties, the National Coalition Party (44 seats), the Social Democrats (42) and the True Finns (39), with our without the support by one or two smaller parties, would form the new government. The election’s biggest loser, the Center Party, which lost 16 seats, decided to go into opposition.

But after a couple of weeks it became evident that this would not work. The True Finns had campaigned on a very EU-skeptical platform, above all refusing to even countenance further Finnish contributions to the rescuing of failing economies in the EU. The leader of the True Finns might, it has been argued, have been willing to compromise, but his followers were not. So the previous Minister of Finance and leader of the National Coalition Party, Jyrki Katainen, who thus had been given the task of forming a new government, had  a month after the election to look for a new basis for his cabinet. The solution that looked the most natural one, would be to start negotiations with the second largest party, the Social Democrats and the Greens (10), the Swedish People’s Party (10) and the Christian Democratic Party (6). It soon became obvious that the Social Democratic leader Jutta Urpilainen, did not want to be the only party of the left in these negotiations. So the Union of the Left was invited. The so-called six-pack government clearly almost became a reality, when after agreeing on most of the agenda, the negotiations suddenly were broken off, whereupon the two parties of the left threw surprisingly strong recriminating statements in the face of Mr Katainen. It was the balance of cuts and tax increases to overcome the looming budget deficit that seems to have caused the break-down.

What was then Mr Katainen to do? Should he surrender his task and leave the floor to Ms Urpilainen? Or should one already begin considering new elections? Mr Katainen sprung a surprise when he then, six weeks after the election, invited the True Finns and the big election loser (35), the Center Party under the previous Prime Minister, Mari Kiviniemi, to start discussions; Ms Kiviniemi accepted but did not want to consider participating without the True Finns. But this attempt also stumbled on the EU issue. Rumours have it that Mr Katainen even had promised the True Finns the right to vote no on EU issues, yet staying in the cabinet. But this rather peculiar model for obvious reasons did not work. One might wonder whether Katainen really was serious or if these talks mostly were a means of gaining time and exerting pressure on the leftist parties to come back to the table. If so, it worked. The six-pack solution came back into focus and after a week or so, the discussions were successfully completed. And after almost two months of protracted negotiations, Finland – the longest such process in many a decade – escaped the fate of Belgium which a year after the latest parliamentary elections still is saddled with an interim government.

The new and still rather young (40) Prime Minister, Jyrki Katainen, has been criticized for taking so long to form the new cabinet. But then the outcome of the election presented him with a very difficult task. It was not made any easier when his own party certainly became the biggest one in the Riksdag but still lost 6 seats to make it the largest party with the fewest number of seats in a very long time. The leader of the True Finns, Timo Soini, now says this government will not last long. The expectation is, however, that it will stay the course until 2015 when the next election is due. One small party or other can be leaving, the cabinet now holding a majority of 126 seats out of 200. The issue of the construction of new nuclear reactors, which caused the Greens so much political pain in the previous government and contributed to their losses in the election, has been shelved. But the balance between cuts in the budget and taxes might still cause future problems for the Union of the Left.

Of the ministerial appointments, the most interesting one is the return to the Foreign Ministry of the radical intellectual Social Democrat Erkki Tuomioja, who has to coexist with his predecessor, strongly pro-European Alexander Stubb of the National Coalition Party, who will be Minister for Europe and Foreign Trade. And how will the rather young and inexperienced Jutta Urpilainen (36), leader of the Social Democrats, cope with the very demanding Ministry of Finance at a time when the Finnish economy needs careful handling?

NOTE: Further reports on the election in Finland http://balticworlds.com/dramatic-victory-for-a-populist-party-in-finland/ and http://balticworlds.com/finnish-version-of-populism/

  • by Mats Bergquist

    PhD in political science. Chancellor of Växjö University and Chairman of the Board of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

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