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.