How Finns Party’s Racist Turn Might Shake Government of Finland?

Now it’s real. Finland’s government includes a party that just elected a person convicted for a racist crime (ethnic agitation) as its new leader. The question is obviously not simply about Jussi Halla-aho’s criminal behavior, but that the party has decided to take a turn away from its agrarian populist roots and toward racism.

What will happen next?

The leaders of other governmental parties have been unwilling to comment on this before the Finns Party election, but now they will have to start talking.

Many eyes are on Kokoomus, the most traditional right-wing party of Finland and one of the three governmental parties. Its newly elected and quite popular Mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, has been one of the most explicit political leaders on this issue: Kokoomus should not be in the same government with Halla-aho. Will the desire to keep the government together make the leadership of Kokoomus opt for a more pragmatic solution?

The Centre Party has more to lose if the government breaks down. It has the prime minister’s post but would be unlikely to do all that well in a new election. One possible option is let go of Finns Party but find a couple of smaller parties to join the government and avoid new election.

Overall, most commentators do not seem to find new election very likely.

Whatever else happens, Finland is now likely to get a new Foreign Minister. Halla-aho has been very explicit that Timo Soini, the leader of the party for decades, has to step down also as a minister. Had Sampo Terho, Halla-aho’s main contender, been elected, Soini would probably have continued as minister.

More generally, the election of Jussi Halla-aho can be considered a sad end for the long and in many ways successful career of Timo Soini as the leader of Finns Party.

Among leftist commentators, opinions about the desirability of Halla-aho’s election have been divided. Some say that since both of the main candidates, Terho and Halla-aho, are almost equally racist or otherwise right-wing anyway, it is better to get the more explicitly racist person in front.

Compared to Terho, Halla-aho’s election is more likely to shake the current right-wing government of Finland and therefore cause trouble for the massive transformation (privatization) of health care that the government has been pushing through. Therefore, some leftists say, it is preferable to have Halla-aho in charge of the Finns Party.

These are simply some of the very first impressions immediately after the vote at the meeting of the Finns Party. The meeting still goes on, and Jussi Halla-aho is expected to give a major speech tomorrow Sunday. It is possible that the governmental coalition partners want to wait and see what he says. In any case, they will need to take a stand soon.


** Edit (June 2017): This post was written immediately after the Finns Party election on a Sunday, and the following days provided an rare drama in Finnish politics.

First, the two other government parties announced on Monday that they cannot continue in the same government with Finns Party led by Halla-aho.

On Tuesday, just when the Prime Minister was (supposedly, at least) on his way to  leave the resignation of the government, a new twist. The majority of the Finns Party members of parliament, including its all-time leader Timo Soini and all their ministers, announced they leave the party and form a new group.

Then the Prime Minister announced that the governmental crisis was over. The ex Finns Party members would continue in their ministerial posts and the government would not resign.

Thereafter a couple of those who left Finns Party have returned to the party. The governmental coalition currently has a tiny majority in the parliament, so if there are more party transfers, the current coalition might enter into a new crisis. There are also other potential reasons for a crisis in the government, but they would demand a whole new post.



A Tweet of May that Matters. First Reflections on a Hung Parliament after the UK Election

Tweets matter. Among the many moments in the month of May that Prime Minister Theresa May may regret, there exists one tweet.

On May 20, she declared:

Was this tweet “the shortest suicide note in history”? Can its message be undone? There surely would be nothing new in post-electoral deeds that deviate from pre-electoral words. Yet, the existence of the tweet adds to the humiliation that Theresa May is assumed to be facing right now.  In any case, the results that create a hung parliament would have seemed bad for May even without the tweet.

Hung parliament could result in Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. Unlikely, perhaps, but the mere possibility weakens Theresa May.

The results also weaken those who argue that a relatively radical left discourse means an electoral catastrophe.

Even if the Conservatives were able to keep Downing Street 10, Jeremy Corbin would probably join Bernie Sanders as a symbol for an electoral excitement that a mildly but clearly socialist rhetoric may cause. Especially among the young, a relevant aspect for debates on possible futures.

Could Theresa May, or whoever else might aim to become a Conservative Prime Minister, get help from Northern Ireland? Democratic Unionist Party’s Google search numbers must be huge right now.

With ten seats and the possibility to help the Conservatives create a majority, the DUP that was relatively unknown outside Northern Ireland (or at least in places like Finland), could claim a kingmaker role. This role might be brief, but it probably tastes sweet.

For those critical of strong executive powers, a hung parliament might sound nice.

The situation vaguely reminds me of the early days of the so-called six-pack coalition government in Finland in 2011. The government was hard to get together, and included strange bedfellows. Back then, I commented, only half tongue in cheek, that one nice thing about the six-pack government would be that it might not get much harm done – because it might not get much done at all.

In the context of Brexit, a lack of a strong government may obviously have some particular dimensions. In Brexit negotiations, there are special pressures for a strong executive. For the moment a new popular vote on Brexit seems unlikely, but there might be renewed calls for it.

More generally, of course, comparisons between countries with very different electoral systems, such as Finland and the UK, have many limits.

One further difference between the UK and many other countries is the lack of a written constitution. Perhaps constitutional scholars get the pleasure to analyse a constitutional crisis in a country with no constitutional text to analyse.

I look forward to my visit to the UK in a couple of days to explore more of these questions. I will be acting as external examiner for a PhD thesis at Birbeck College, University of London, and also participating at the British International Association’s meeting in Brighton. Let me know what I should observe in these fascinating times.

Migrant Candidates Advance in Helsinki Local Election

Candidates with migrant background get more importance than before in Helsinki municipal election. Some of the votes have not yet been counted, so this conclusion must be seen as a preliminary one. The situation was even more impressive after the early votes were counted and before the votes of the electoral day itself changed the situation for some of the candidates.

Overall, the relatively good results of the candidates with migrant background can be seen both in the general number of seats as well as in the facts that some of them have established themselves as key actors in their parties.

Among the Greens, Ozan Yanar becomes one of the top vote-getters. His rise in Finnish politics has been impressive in the last couple of years. Born in Turkey, he moved to Finland as a teenager. In the final results he will be among the most voted of all candidates, across parties, nationwide.

In Left Alliance, Suldaan Said Ahmed has appropriated some of the national symbols of Finland to respond to racist critiques. During the electoral campaign he received a a significant amount of threats and hate messages, which may have finally boosted his votes. I know various people whose decision to vote for Suldaan was triggered by a desire to support him against the haters.  With Somali background, he moved to Finland as a teenager. Also Zahra Abdullah was receiving many early votes in Left Alliance, though finally she did not get elected.

Social Democrats have candidates with migrant background, such as Nasima Razmyar and Abdirahim ”Husu” Hussein Mohamed, among the most voted ones. In the centre-right Kokoomus, the biggest party in Helsinki and in Finland, Mukhtar Abib did well in the early results, but finally did not get in.

It would be interesting to study if there is something about the vote for candidates with Somali background, like Abib and Abdullah, that contributes to a tendency to get better results in early votes (votes made before the electoral day) than in the votes of the electoral day itself. Also, it may be interesting to study why people with Somali background seem to be more active in Helsinki electoral politics than people with some other migrant background (such as the Russians).

In any case, in this brief review I have only mentioned some of the candidates with migrant backgrounds from various parties. When analysing the results more carefully, one should be careful to define what “migrant background” may mean. The whole concept may become somewhat more fuzzy. Foreign-sounding name may not indicate any clearly definable migrant background.

Overall, it seems that Helsinki municipal council is becoming more ethnically diverse than before. This should be no major surprise, if we look at the numbers of migrants. Early results from other parts of Finland, such as Turku, indicate that candidates with migrant backgrounds get more seats than before.

At the same time, the established party most critical of the migrants, the Finns Party, is suffering its most significant electoral downfall in recent history. It is still bigger than it was not so long time ago, and some of the downfall may be explained by its participation in the government that has made many welfare cuts. Yet, the relatively bad results in this election may have an impact on the moods around rightwing nationalist groups also elsewhere in Europe. What may have seemed like an almost inevitable rise and rise of xenophobic populism seems no longer so inevitable.

In the overall results, the center-right Kokoomus remains the biggest party with 20.7% of the nationwide votes. A good result, helped by a very popular candidate Jan Vapaavuori in Helsinki, even if the overall votes were fewer than in the previous election. The Center Party got a historically low percentage (17.5%), though with its  agrarian base it remains the party with most representatives across the country.

By far the biggest advance was made by the Greens. With 12.4% of the nationwide votes, they can now be considered, in relative terms, the biggest Green party in Europe. The Green vote remains concentrated in the biggest cities.

For Social Democrats, the results were mostly a disappointment with 19.4%, as the aim had very explicitly been in becoming the biggest party. They have not been able to benefit from their position as the main opposition party. The Greens, and to some extent the Left Alliance, have been able to create an aura of leading the opposition.

The Left Alliance, with the charismatic new chair of the party Li Andersson, advanced in the election, getting 8.8% of the national votes. In Helsinki, where they advanced to 11,2%, one striking feature is that their elected representatives are mostly below 40 years old.

In Helsinki, one era is at least temporarily over as the Communist Party was not able to reelect its long-time only member of the municipal council Yrjö Hakanen, whose dedicated work has been respected across (some) party lines. Instead, the Feminist Party and the Pirate Party entered the council with one representative each.


NOTE: Some parts have been edited on the morning following the electoral night (April 10, 2017).

Reformlessness Debt: Conceptual Innovation by PM Sipilä

A new political concept emerged today. Uudistamattomuusvelka. My immediate rough translation is reformlessness debt. For clarity, we could also say debt due to an accumulated lack of reform.

In my understanding, the concept refers to a metaphorical debt that has accumulated because previous governments have been unable or unwilling to make reforms. To the extent these reforms are necessary, the debt can be considered a reason for making the needed reforms with a bang, in a hurry, today. Continue reading

Chancellor of Justice and Constitutional Scholars Criticise Government of Finland

Criticism of the government in Finland has transgressed standard opposition talk.

Today the main newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published an interview of the Chancellor of Justice Jaakko Jonkka. One of his main tasks is to supervise the lawfulness of the official acts of the government. His comments suggested in calm but clear manner that the current government has repeatedly sidestepped constitutional considerations when making law proposals in the parliament. Continue reading

Should the Air Force of Finland Get Rid of the Swastika?


One thing that keeps amazing me is to see the Finnish military marching and some of the Air Force guys carrying a swastika. I am not talking only about documentaries from the 1930s. I am talking about today. The image posted above is the current emblem of the Air Force Command.

Swastika-like figures appear in some other official Finnish symbols, including the presidential flag. My focus here is on the one used by the Air Force since it is probably the one that has clearest resemblance with the Nazi symbol. The colors and the position are a bit different, but the association is difficult to avoid. Continue reading