Who are the winners of Finland’s elections?

Read few comments.


Questions:

1. In various EU countries the Social Democrats are fighting for political survival, in Finland they just won the election. Can the others learn something from the Finnish SD?

2. The Finns Party is the second and won plus one mandate comparing to the last elections. Why were they able to score this good result?

Answers:

Henrik Serup Christensen, Academy Research Fellow, Åbo Akademi

1. Although the Social democrats were the largest party this is widely considered a bad result for them considering the unpopularity of the previous government. Most commentators were expecting a much more solid win and that was also what the polls suggested just a week ago. So this results is actually a disappointment for the social democrats and they will most likely need to form a broad government that include one of the right-win parties. So there is hardly any great lesson to be learned for other countries.

2. The strong performance of the Finns party was a surprise to most. They got a lot of media attention in the last few days and managed to mobilize their voters. This was at least partly because they not only emphasized their traditional issue of being anti-immigration, but also relied on opposition to strong environmental measures that were proposed by most other parties, and most clearly the Green party. This was inspired by the “Yellow west” movement in France and this helped them to appeal to segments that are not necessarily worried about immigration.

Mikko Mattila, Professor of Political Science, Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki

1. Yes, you are correct that the Social Democrats won the elections, which is contrary to the general trend in Europe. But I think that people in the Social Democratic headquarters are not too happy today. The reason is that the expectations were much higher. The SDP was the main opposition party, the government coalition was very unpopular and the polls conducted before the election day predicted a much larger win for the SDP. In the end, they came out as the biggest party but only slightly before the Finns Party. In this way, many believe that the results for the SDP was actually a disappointment, although their leader Antti Rinne will probably be the next prime minister. So, it is probable that the main factor behind the success was simply the position as the main opposition party, not that they were able to run a very successful campaign.

2. The story for the Finns party is different, although technically they lost slightly compared to the parliamentary elections four year ago (-0.2% point in votes, but still +1 MP). However, again against the expectations, they came out as the winner in many sense. After, the party split into two in 2017, very few people expected that would do this well. The more general reason for the Finns’ success is related to the fact that they were able to appear as a vey unified ideological group: they want to tighten the immigration policy, they are not too keen on taking drastic measures against the climate change. These are simple positions for the voters to understand. However, during the campaign the Finns did not take any clear position on the welfare state issues (health, social policy) or state finance (taxes, possible budget cuts). Thus, their message was simple but very appealing to many voters.

One has to remember that the Green party was one of the big winners as well. In a more general level, I like to interpret the results (also the changes in Europe at large) as an indication of the rise on the new political dimension: nationalistic vs. cosmopolitan. This new dimension is slowly becoming more and more important alongside the traditional left-right dimension, even maybe replacing it slowly. The Finns and the Greens are the opposite poles of this new dimension, and now together they received 29% of the votes.

Emilia Palonen, Senior Lecturer, Department of Political and Economic Studies, University of Helsinki

1. This 17.7% was a surprisingly poor result in the conditions of a very unpopular austerity government. One would have thought they would have gotten over 20% – they managed to confront these policies in the opposition: the votes were going to the Left Alliance and the Greens – each got a third more seats in the parliament! – as well as the Finns Party.

2. This was a very good result: this is not the same party in all senses as in 2011 and 2015 – as the leadership changed in June 2017, and a clearly anti-immigration leadership took over resulting in a split of the parliamentary group and a formation of a new party (which did not pass to the parliament). They also got out of the austerity government at that point and could stage a clear break to them.

Other parties, such as SDP did not do that well, and some of the provocative proposals voiced by them including banning diesel cars overtime and a tax on meat. These challenged the traditional way of life, and got more votes to the Finns Party who think climate is not an issue to be tackled in Finland but it should be tackled abroad where most pollution takes place.

They also collected much of the votes from the Centre: people thought the FP could be taking better care of the people in more remote areas.

Jaakko Turunen, Lecturer, Södertörn University

Let’s look at the macro picture of the elections: the three biggest parties are all within 0,7 percentage points, 17,7 (16,5) for Social Democratic, 17,5 (17,3) for the Finns and 17,0 (18,2) for the National Coalition Party. In the parentheses you have the figures for last elections. The conclusion is that there are no significant changes here or nothing to indicate that Social Democrats could celebrate “changing winds”. In stead, I think there are two other conclusions one should draw:

1) The National Coalition Party was in the government during the last mandate period but did not really suffer from the “government responsibility”. They pushed policies such as privatisation of the elderly care that was in many respects scandalous (plenty of news on how private for-profit companies in the elderly case business exploit their employees, cheat on salaries and risk patient safety), but does not seem to affect the support for the party. The government responsibility was carried solely by the Centre party (they went down from 21,1 % to 13,8). So instead of success of Social Democracy, I would talk about stability – and permanently low support for the old “big three” (SD, Centre, Nat. Coalition) parties and stabilisation/consolidation (still a process, not a result) of the Finns in that gang of the “big parties”. One factor in thinking of the success of the Finns is that even if they formally were in the coalition government until summer 2017, their split put the Finns back into the opposition and they have performed rather well in canalising different currents of disbelief, mistrust and frustation to politics that has become increasingly feeble vis-a-vis e.g. big business, and discourses on political correctness. If not the Social Democrats, the Left and the Greens (in Finland belongs firmly to the left side) performed better. The Left has extreme good party leader, Li Andersson. It is much to her credit. The Greens have traditionally be seen as the value liberal but economically more solidarity showing and perhaps also more innovative in thinking of future options. The Greens attract many voters from urban areas and among educated people; the National Coalition, which is also sometimes labelled as liberal is in fact more liberal only in economic terms and takes up values questions not so often. If you think of the urban left-leaning, educated (hipster) person, there are in principle two options: the Left or the Greens; social democrats have still a lot to do to make themselves progressive and “urban”. In that sense they are very much like the Swedish Social Democratic party now: they won because the other parties lost (and those that really won, were too small to start building the government). What makes me puzzled most in the result is that why the National Coalition Party did not lose too? (out of this context I would be inclined even to evoke false consciousness as the explanation, but it is perhaps not that Pravda you are writing?)

2) The Finns party after the change in the leadership in summer 2017 (Timo Soini was ousted and Jussi Halla-aho took over the leadership) has moved more to a extreme right position, playing more with xenophobia and really approaching in many respects the ideological currents that can be found in different “alternative right” circles. No, difficult to call the neo-Nazis, but better “alternative right” with rather strong positions on e.g. climate change (and how one should perhaps eat more meat!), witty social media memes etc. Really kind of taking it out on the “liberal”, “green” and “politically correct”. Think of bringing the “real man” (definitely man) from Zilina or Banska Bystrica to the core of politics. The more outspoken and outrageous, the better. In Finland, we have for a long argued that populism is somehow of a different kind than in other European countries, that it has certain agrarian bases like in the US in the early 2oth century. Not anymore: the Finns is a mainstream vocal far-right party that plays with language, succeeds in reducing complex questions about integration, immigration into politically powerful metonymies that dislocate the often the structural questions to individual aspects or events (like sexual assaults against girls in Oulu, a city in Northern Finland).

To understand the Finns, I think we should think of politics with other means than we have used so far. Politics for them is more about images, spectacle (very much in the way Guy Debord used the term) and ways to “take the piss out of something or someone”. Jussi Halla-aho is a verbal virtuoso (he also has a PhD in Slavonic languages) and really has taken politics from the concrete deeds to discourse and media. I have else where described this as politics of dislocation, that one use increasingly tropes (metonymy and synecdoche but also metaphors) to focus on concrete events but really talk about something else: opposing the climate change or claiming how important meat eating is are not really things many the Finns supporters believe in, but they are ways of showing the middle finger to the establishment and this rules. In a BBC documentary, they once pondered how best debate Donald Trump and the answer was by not turning up at all; this logic perhaps should be the way to deal with the Finns too. To talk about “facts”, about “structures” or such can be defeated by simple linguistic trick – and Halla-aho is a master of such.

If my answer as of the “success” of the Social democrats was mainly that other parties lost, the same cannot be transferred to the Finns. I think there is genuine support for such a party in Finland. Evidence of this is that when Soini was ousted, the party recovered and maintained its electoral base, just that its value base went more extreme. The conclusion then is that Soini’s value-base for the electoral base he commanded was to moderate…

Best, Emilia

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