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Populists govern in opposition

Populists govern in opposition

| Text: Carl-Gustav Lindén

Support for Finland’s populist True Finns Party has grown after the spring parliamentary elections. It means the new government is forced to take into account the factors behind the party’s growth, and first and foremost their demand for more expansive social policies to support the weakest in society.

Political life has still not recovered from the shock of the parliamentary election. The True Finns Party, which recently made the controversial decision to name itself 'The Finns' in English, became the country’s third largest party with 19 percent of the votes, up from four percent in the 2007 election. Their support has continued to grow in polls carried out after party leader Timo Soini decided not to join the government, out of principle and for practical reasons. The party got more support than any other during mid-summer.

Not even the Norwegian massacre, which saw support for other Nordic populist parties tumble, has influenced the True Finns popularity - despite the shared ideology. On the contrary, it seems more and more Finns dare stand up and be counted as supporters when Soini and his party members have become acceptable because of their large parliamentary representation, with 39 seats out of 200. 


It is still too early to identify any concrete government decisions which have been influenced by populism, except for one notable example - Finland’s demand for collateral on its loans to Greece.

The True Finns party secretary Ossi Sandvik also says he can not see the effect and as long as the government coalition agrees it is difficult to influence it. However, he says, because they now have a large group in parliament it has become easier for the party to put the government to task or to highlight questions close to the party’s heart through parliamentary questions. 

“I have had a look at the government programme and it is full of good intentions. Things are going to be strengthened, developed and investigated, but there are few concrete measures.”

The True Finns applaud the government’s decision to increase basic state benefits by several hundred million Euro, which was one of the demands the Social Democrats presented in order for them to agree to enter a coalition. 

“It’s going in the right direction, but this does not include the very poorest,” says Sandvik. Meanwhile there will be an increase in the excise on tobacco, alcohol, fuel and sweets, which Sandvik sees as a step in the right direction towards a flat rate tax. 

A release for the dissatisfied

Political researchers agree that dissatisfaction with the large traditional parties, particularly the Social Democrats and the Centre Party, was the main reason behind the True Finns’ success at the polls. Established politicians had forgotten to listen to society’s less fortunate members, mostly marginalised men who mobilised in protest.

The True Finns’ social politics competes with that of the Social Democrats, but is based on conservative values. The party wants to reward women who chose to stay at home. Senior lecturer Rauli Mickelsson has studied the party’s programme, and says it makes him think of the early 1900s when the welfare state was just emerging and the continuation after world war two. It paints a picture of social politics as a unifying power within the nation where everyone should be included. The party programme is generally very nationalistic. 

Senior lecturer Ilkka Ruostetsaari points to the fact that the True Finn’s social political ambitions have not been seen through. They got seats in three parliamentary committees, none of which deal with social or labour policies. The committees are defence (the party supports strong armed forces), administration (which includes issues like guns, policing and immigration) and foreign affairs (where the party can express its EU criticism).

A driving force

Jan Sundberg, professor of political science, says he has noticed the Social Democrats have positioned themselves near the populists’ line and adopted their views on issues like collateral for loans to Greece.

”The True Finns were a driving force in that question.”

Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen (The National Coalition Party) was forced into many compromises before he could form the government coalition which comprises six political parties. During the party’s annual conference towards the end of August, several participants concluded that the True Finns are now controlling the daily political agenda in Finland.

The government is waiting with bated breath on how its 2012 budget proposal will be received by the True Finns in parliament. They have already threatened they will not play ball.

Timo Soini

and his True Finns Party were the great winners in Finland's general elections (above).


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