By Theo Herold
In the previous episode of ”Korttitalo”, the increasingly popular True Finns Party (nowadays just the “Finns Party”) saw their leadership group disband and form what they call the “New Alternative”. Following the appointment of new True Finns party president and vocal ethnic nationalist Jussi Halla-Aho, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä decided to dissolve the government, which set off the division of the True Finns. With the government in disarray, would the Social Democrats finally get back into government? Even the small parties, that is to say the Left Alliance, the Swedish People’s Party, the Green League and Christian Democrats, were involved in the whole ordeal, preparing to start negotiations with the Prime Minister on a possible position in government… I could go on. Finnish politics had not seen this kind of turmoil in a long time. In reality, it might all have been a political ploy to reallocate power between already powerful government officials. In any case, it was an interesting time for Finnish politics and democracy as a whole. But why did it happen?
For the unaware, “Korttitalo” means “House of Cards” in Finnish. It was an analogy used by the party leader of the Swedish People’s Party, Anna-Maija Henriksson, when referring to the governmental crisis. It was the first of its kind since the presidency of Urho Kekkonen in 1961. Aside from Finland’s dark yet rich history, contemporary Finnish politics remains as a reminder that politics in Northern Europe tends to be mundane. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, northern politics shares an awful lot of similarities with its climate — it is cold.
Until June 10th, the Finnish government consisted of three parties: the Center Party, with Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, the National Coalition Party, with party president and Minister of Finance, Petteri Orpo, and the True Finns, with Minister of Foreign Affairs and party president, Timo Soini. This was one of the few times the Swedish People’s Party was left out of the government. It was joined by the Christian Democrats, the Green League and the Left Alliance in an opposition spearheaded by the Social Democrats. With budget cuts and reforms to welfare benefits — most notably closing community hospitals and cutting student grants — the new government coalition set sail towards bringing Finland back up from a recent depression. The Euroscepticism of the True Finns rang throughout Finland, with Timo Soini being appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. In many ways the government fell in line with the right-wing-nationalistic wave rolling through Europe at the time. It is worth noting that liberal parties in Finland do not use the de facto definition of “liberalism”; for instance, the majority of the Finnish Center Party voted against same sex marriage in 2014, as opposed to traditionally liberal parties. Even so, the inclusion of the True Finns as a government party in the coalition was somewhat strange, as the True Finns are supporters of left-wing economic policies, ethnic nationalism and conservative values, all of which the Center Party usually oppose. Moreover, the Center Party frequently favors decentralization, which only makes the recent coalition government more of a head-scratcher.
Enough backstory. The “Korttitalo” needs to be addressed.
The True Finns party that traveled to their annual congress in Jyväskylä on June 10th were not the same True Finns that came back on the 11th; as much was said by the Prime Minister. The congress would prove to be a decisive moment for the Finnish government, as Jussi Halla-Aho was appointed party president. The same Jussi Halla-Aho who had been charged with discrimination and hate speech. The same man who declared all of Islam a cult of destruction and death. The same man who made an already established conservative nationalist like Timo Soini want to split from the party. Not two days after the congress came the Prime Minister’s statement that, with the blessing of President Sauli Niinistö, he would dissolve the government. Both the Prime Minister and National Coalition Party Leader, Petteri Orpo, mutually agreed that they could not work with a party bearing extremely conservative and racist values, especially in a government coalition. The jargon among the Center Party and National Coalition Party was that the True Finns were too Eurosceptic to work with. The opposition was eagerly sitting on the sidelines, knowing that a new government would likely mean the inclusion of at least one of the previous opposition parties, at the expense of the True Finns.
The final card on the “Korttitalo” was placed by none other than the True Finns. The party members who held governmental positions called a press conference to announce that they were splitting from the True Finns, and that they were forming a new party. That, should the Prime Minister allow it, they would stay on as government officials, but not as True Finns. In response, the Prime Minister turned his coat. The opposition remained in opposition, only now joined by the True Finns. Timo Soini and his band of previous party members remained as ministers, under their new party “New Alternative”. In the course of 20 minutes, things returned to normal. The opposition was disappointed and furious by how everything played out.
Some critics say that these events were already planned ahead of time. The coalition government’s approval ratings had steadily gone down, with the True Finns taking the biggest hit. The theory goes that Halla-Aho was going to win the party president title, and that he would have had the True Finns leave the government to save voters for the next elections, all the while rebranding the True Finns as a truly nationalistic, anti-immigration and fiscally left party. There would be no more seesawing between different political views. The fact that the True Finns often ended up in deadlocks with other government parties, as well as the parliament, led to the inability to execute their policies, which consequently led to the loss of voters. This new tactic would instead let the True Finns do what they have done best so far: oppose. Through being an opposition party, they would gain more voters than they lost and thus come out strong for the elections in 2019. However, this theory goes both ways. Prominent politicians in the True Finns, like Timo Soini, were able to jump ship and save face, while still being a part of the government under no real political party. In turn, this would make these politicians attractive to other parties, once the coalition government’s term is up.
Others say that the True Finns were a crucible of conflicting opinions, with a strong mix of ultra-nationalists and relatively mild conservatives, and that it was only a matter of time before the party split. Some claim that everything simply played out naturally, that the politicians involved just acted on the go. No matter the backstory (although it would be interesting to get the full story), Finnish politics had not seen such a political play in a long time. No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, I think we can all agree that it was an interesting few days. I like to believe that “Korttitalo 2017” led to more young people finding an interest in politics. In these turbulent political times, when we see eloquent displays of democracy in play, we should cherish them.
Theo Herold is the Program Secretary of UF Uppsala and a political science student with a passion for diplomacy and politics. He’s a book nut and hockey geek, and doesn’t shy away from a heated political debate. Besides dreaming of experiencing different cultures and leaving a mark within the subject of political science, he strives to work within the EU with diplomatic assignments.
Image: Flickr CC