Janne Strang Editorial – Social Democrats Countdown to Abdication

With new opinion polls showing a continued slump for the Social Democrats, Janne Strang asks how long until they replace their leader?

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Time to hit the road, Antti? / Credit: Demarit Flickr

A new poll by state-funded broadcaster YLE shows the Social Democrats losing ground. So how long until there’s regime change at the top of one of Finland’s grand old parties?

After the announcement last weekend that the Social Democrats had chosen former Minister of Health and current MP Tuula Haatainen, 57, as their presidential candidate, there will likely be no more interesting turns, save surprises, to look forward to in the run-up to the first election round on the 28th of January 2018.

As a classic social democrat, Haatainen will play the role of defender of traditional welfare policies. Her undisputed experience, sincerity and candour will perhaps win over some support from disillusioned volatiles, though pundits see SDP heading for its worst election result since 2012, when former PM Paavo Lipponen, then already 70, was exhumed from his political grave and rolled out to take a humiliating and totally unnecessary public whipping.

Lipponen got only 6.7% of the votes, a sad ending to a distinguished statesman’s career and an acute crisis for the old state-bearing party. However, very little did improve during the tenure of Jutta Urpilainen, 42, as chair, and the fatal downward spiral has only accelerated under Antti Rinne, 54.

Suffice to say, the rumours that SDP were supposedly considering former president Tarja Halonen for another run, were not immediately brushed of as preposterous. It was something people were willing to believe Rinne would actually do.

Now, with polls at an all-time low (15.6% / YLE Gallup) and trends pointing steadily downwards, the party offices of this once proud and stable people’s movement has reportedly sunk to in-house fighting, media backstabbing and finger pointing.One of SDP’s high profile MPs Timo Harakka was recently joking on Facebook about hanging his hopes in presidential elections on the fact that Tuula Haatainen and Tarja Halonen share the same initials. Yes, jokingly, of course, but followed by the embarrassed laughter of the already defeated.

Commentators and spectators agree that any real change within the social democrats can only arise from the old guard of the party elite realising that a party must be something greater and more important than a personal retirement fund for a few old fat cats.

Relinquishing power and responsibility down the food chain to the younger generations is by no means a new or unique solution to save an organisation, but it might just be the only choice at hand for SDP.

It seems the only one not realising this is Mr Rinne himself. If he’d listen more closely, instead of demanding his comrades retweet and make him look better online, he too might hear his countdown clock ticking before it tolls.