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.

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).

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

Critique as Hysteria: I say this government is hostile to universities

The debate about the future of universities in Finland has been quite intense in the last couple of years. There have been various kinds of protests, including occupations of university buildings by angry students and critical declarations by professors. Some, such as the eminent scholar of Arabic and Islam Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, have decided to leave the country, citing the hostile attitude of the current government of Finland toward the universities as one reason. Continue reading

Finns Party Member of Parliament Ignorant of the Constitutional Right to Demonstrate

There was an energetic antiracist demonstration yesterday in Helsinki. It was triggered by comments that Member of Parliament Olli Immonen had made in Facebook a few days earlier. Many people, including myself, considered these comments by a high-profile Finns Party member disgustingly racist.

Especially for the standards of the Finnish protest culture, the demonstration was mostly deemed a great success. Sure, there were some minor contradictions.

Today another Finns Party Member of Parliament, Jani Mäkelä, decided to question yesterday’s demonstration. So he asked in Twitter how the demonstration was able to get permits from the authorities so fast. Smart. Except that the Finnish constitution happens to be quite clear: no permit is needed for demonstrations. Continue reading

Marriage Equality Law Rejection May Have a Silver Lining

A proposal for marriage equality law was blocked today in the Finnish parliament. Among other things, it proposed giving same-sex couples full adoption rights. The decision of the parliament’s legal affairs committee is obviously embarrassing for the attempts to create an image of Finland as a vanguard of equality rights.

The silver lining is that citizen’s initiative will be able to make visible its legislative potential. This could be an unprecedented opportunity for mechanisms of participatory democracy, traditionally not very strong in Finland. Continue reading

Limits to Openness in Finnish Development Policy: Selecting the World Bank Executive Director

“Openness, right to information and access to decision-making are fundamental principles of the rule of law and good governance.” This is one example of the many ways in which the Development Policy Program of the Finnish Government emphasizes the importance of openness. Nice words, but does the government practice what it preaches? Continue reading