Finland 2011

A parliamentary election was held in Finland on April 17, 2011. I talked briefly about all this in a preview post and Who rules where had a great guest post about it as well. This was a very interesting election which ended in Finnish style of having the three main parties in a statistical tie. Here are the results:

National Coalition 20.4% (-1.9%) winning 44 seats (-6)
Social Democratic Party 19.1% (-2.3%) winning 42 seats (-3)
True Finns 19% (+14.9%) winning 39 seats (+34)
Centre 15.8% (-7.3%) winning 35 seats (-16)
Left Alliance 8.1% (-0.7%) winning 14 seats (-3)
Green League 7.2% (-1.3%) winning 10 seats (-5)
Swedish People’s Party 4.3% (-0.3%) winning 9 seats (nc)
Christian Democrats 4% (-0.9%) winning 6 seats (-1)
Others 0.4% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (nc) – the Åland seat

Turnout was 70.4%, up 2.5% from 2007 to reach the highest turnout level since 1995.

It was, overall, a pretty bad night if you were a party other than the True Finns. Remarkably, all but one of the parliamentary parties lost votes. The National Coalition emerged as the largest party for the first time in its history and will most likely lead the next government for the first time since the 1987-1991 Holkeri KOK-led coalition. But KOK’s victory is somewhat Pyhrric, in that it lost votes and seats from its high-water mark in 2007. But considering KOK is the junior partner in the governing coalition, they didn’t lose all that badly. This may speak about the competence and skills of KOK leader and Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen. KOK didn’t lose as much support as, say, the governing Centre Party (KESK).

Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi’s governing Centre Party (KESK) won its worst showing since the 1917 election and fell to fourth place (not for the first time, however). While she herself was popular and her support outstripped that of KESK, her party clearly paid the heavy price for the unpopular EU bailout of failing economies in Ireland and Greece, a major issue in this election. Kiviniemi has already announced that KESK will head back to the opposition benches after being in power since 2003.

The Social Democrats (SDP) performed relatively well, although they lost seats and votes, when you consider their leadership woes and the talk that the SDP’s leader, Jutta Urpilainen, is a poor leader. With a better leader, it could very well have done better but after the 2009 disaster (the EU elections) for the SDP this is a decent showing. The SDP likely benefited from a more populist and Euro-critical campaign, led in response to the rise of the True Finns. Still, this is SDP’s worst showing in a general election (somewhat surprisingly).

The Left (VAS) won its worst showing ever, although again after the 2009 disaster for VAS their vote held up remarkably well. The Greens were overestimated by pollsters and probably ended up paying a price for their participation in an unpopular government. The Greens will be headed to the opposition benches as well.

If there’s only one winner in this election, it has got to be the True Finns. Underestimated by pollsters, Timo Soini’s right-wing populist party has boosted its support by nearly 15% since 2007 and 9% since its previous high-water showing in the 2009 European elections. Timo Soini won the most votes of an individual candidate in this election, and has placed his party into a very strong third place. The True Finns benefited from a plethora of factors. In terms of issues, they were the main beneficiaries of the popular opposition to the EU bailouts of Greece and Ireland which was spearheaded by the KESK-KOK government and supported by the four-party government though opposed by the SDP. The potential bailout for Portugal – strongly opposed by PS – may have been a late boost to the True Finns who have made opposition to the bailouts and the European Stability Mechanism the universal cornerstone of their campaign. Immigration may not have been a major issue – PS candidates in rural areas didn’t talk about it (though they did in urban areas) but there is a growing and underlying fear in Finland that immigration is breaking the nation’s homogeneity and the PS was able to make issues out of Somali and Iraqi asylum seekers.

The True Finns’ eclectic platform mixing economic nationalism with social conservatism was a winning recipe in this election. PS’ defense of the welfare state and support for higher spending on social programs helped it significantly in a country with nearly 12% unemployment.

PS’ breakthrough is also a major defeat for the traditional system of Finnish politics. The three main parties, all moderate and traditional parties of government, have usually alternated in power. All three, plus the Swedes and others including the Greens have been in government at least once in the last ten years. There is little discernible difference between either of the three major parties, and such setup always benefits the populist right who can present themselves as a credible alternative and as a “people’s” alternative to the parties of the “elite”.

The above map, showing results by municipality, gives the impression of a KESK landslide. Despite coming fourth, KESK seems to have won most if not a majority of the 300-some municipalities in Finland and certainly won the most land area. Of course, KESK is an agrarian party and its roots remains in the sparsely populated municipalities of rural Finland. As such, it invariably dominates a map. KOK, on the other hand, is a ver urban party with strength in major cities and their suburbs. Most notably Helsinki, where KOK took 27% to the SDP’s 17.5% and the Greens’ 16.7%. KESK, meanwhile, took a paltry 4.5% in the Finnish capital. Interestingly, VAS did well in Helsinki (+3.6%) and may have taken some left-wing Green voters unhappy about their party’s participation in a centre-right coalition. The SDP is also a urban party, with most of its strength lying in small industrial towns or villages mostly in the south of Finland. The SFP, finally, have a strong and stable base in the Swedish municipalities along the coast. Åland is not included on this map because the mainland parties don’t run there.

I haven’t run through the towns where PS topped the poll, but overall they seem to be small suburban or exurban towns/villages outside a regional urban centre. Some of these towns seem to be unilingual Finnish towns close to Swedish-majority towns, areas where PS’ opposition to bilingual education might play well. PS’ electorate is largely male, poorly educated and more often than not working-class or lower middle-class. As mentioned in the preview post, PS drew votes from voters who previously did not vote as well as KESK voters in the rural north, old working-class SDP voters, some VAS voters and fewer KOK voters. PS likely drew very few old Green or SFP voters.

Now comes the tough part, forming a government. KESK and the Greens have already excluded themselves by saying that it’s back to the opposition for them (which is the best strategy for both if they want to regain lost support). KESK’s decision makes forming a coalition harder. Then there are the other issues. KOK is a strongly pro-European campaign and its leader Jyrki Katainen supports the bailouts, saying that is a common European cause. However, his two most likely partners – the SDP and PS – both oppose the bailouts and, in PS’ case, does so very strongly. Timo Soini has already made it clear that he’ll impose his veto on any bailout to Portugal. Jyrki Katainen, however, said that he didn’t want a party which opposes a potential Portuguese bailout in his cabinet. That was before the election, so nobody can really count this as set in stone. At any rate, media speculation is that the most likely outcome is a KOK/SDP/PS/SFP coalition. Outside the aforementioned issues with bailouts, SFP’s surprising inclusion in such a coalition shows that they’re a) whores but also says b) that this isn’t going to work too well. The SFP are whores, yes, in that they’ll work with anybody including Nazis if they’re bilingual. But PS isn’t too keen on the bilingual education issue (to say the least) and this might finally ruffle SFP’s feathers a bit. But at the end of the day, SFP might just be there for show in that it is not needed for anything (KOK/SDP/PS has a 125/200 majority). A cordon sanitaire is not a real option in Finland, and KESK’s decision makes one even more unlikely. A KOK/SDP coalition has 86 seats and, stretching it, an anti-PS coalition of KOK, SDP, VAS and SFP have a majority. But that isn’t speculated by anybody. Coalition talks begin on Thursday, and it’s too early to speculate. But Jyrki Katainen will most likely end up as Prime Minister.

PS is a party of big personalities; Timo Soini certainly shows that well as does the party’s eccentric mix of weird candidates. Its parliamentarians tend to be very independent personalities who invariably butt head with each others and seem to create a broad coalition rather than a cohesive parties. As thus, a party with big clashing personalities entering government may find it hard to prosper any further. Its anti-establishment rhetoric will certainly have to be toned down if it participates in the “establishment” that is government. It will risk association in the long term with unpopular policies the government will inevitably make. PS risks if not destruction than at least cloudy days from its internal incoherencies, diverse personalities and clashing platforms if it enters government. That may be one of the reasons why the establishment parties seem so eager to welcome PS into government.

Finland’s election might have a negative effect on Portugal and other struggling EU nations. PS’ victory and their likely inclusion in government throws a Portuguese bailout into doubt:  already interest rates on Portuguese bonds are ballooning.

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Posted on April 18, 2011, in Finland. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Interesting election from a country with quite funny politics. The funniest part, ie coalition talks, has yet to come though…

    Let’s hope that populist failure dies out soon.

  1. Pingback: Hang on, hang on « Who rules where

  2. Pingback: Finland 2012 « World Elections

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