Turn the page: political parties hope November brings a new chapter

This month gives several political parties a chance to put their recent problems behind them and re-set their focus to the 2019 spring general election.

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File picture showing exterior of parliament building / Credit: News Now Finland

For a number of Finnish politicians and political parties, it’s been a bruising autumn so far, and they’ll be hoping November allows them to the page on past problems.

The Greens saw sliding poll numbers, bad press, and the resignation of their leader for health reasons.

On the government side, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä‘s Centre Party in particular was beset by confrontation with labour unions and became entrenched at third place in opinion polls with the next general election less than eight months away.

Blue Reform had to weather the continued ill-received comments of foreign minister Timo Soini who was criticised by the Chancellor of Justice in an official report, and was then outspoken about actions to halt climate change.

“I think all the political parties are focusing in the long run on the elections” says Jenni Karimäki, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Parliamentary Studies at the University of Turku.

“I think there is a sigh of relief in the Centre Party that these labour union issues are now over, and when it comes to the Greens I think there’s also a sigh of relief that the situation is more clear. Touko Aalto has resigned, and next Saturday they are electing a new chairperson” she tells News Now Finland.

Greens vote for new, temporary, party chair

There’s a new chapter ahead for Finland’s Green party, but it might come in the form of a familiar face.

After several months of declining poll numbers, press criticism of the personal life of their chairman Touko Aalto, the Jyväskylä MP went on sick leave and finally quit his job last week while revealing his long term battle with depression.

In early November the party will elected a temporary chair to see them through the next general election, and it could mean the return of a big hitter after the temporary chair Maria Ohisalo announced today she wouldn’t be running for the top job.

“Maria Ohisalo feels she’s a bit too unknown to run an election campaign on such short notice. Personally in my opinion this signals for a someone very well known and very experienced like Ville Niinistö or Pekka Haavisto who is going to be elected for this short period, then next spring or summer we’re going to see Ohisalo probably going to run then” says Turku University’s Jenni Karimäki.

Having a more senior party leader in the short term like ex-chair Niinistö, or former cabinet minister and two-time presidential candidate Haavisto, would potentially be a boon for the Greens if they were involved in negotiations to form the next government. A steady hand on the tiller – not to mention a welcome boost in the polls from either of these two very popular politicians – could be the shot in the arm the party needs.

“I feel that the situation with my party is good, the party itself has never been in a crisis, but the chairman had a personal crisis” says Green MP Satu Hassi.

“My feeling is that we have several talented people who could be good chairpersons, but if you look at the situation as a whole the Greens are still in Finland getting almost 50% more than in the last parliament election, and in opinion polls we are clearly the number one among young people” says the MP, herself a former party leader and environment minister.

For the Greens, in the wake of the most recent climate change report, they’ll want to try and re-engage the public on this topic, and hope to make up some of the ground they’ve recently lost on voter popularity.

“Climate change has become one of the lead topics in political discussion, and my feeling is that much more people than before understand not just the severity of climate change, but how we have to react” Satu Hassi tells News Now Finland.

Centre Party Looks Ahead

That ‘sigh of relief’ at the Centre Party was audible at the tail end of last week when unions made moves to accept the coalition government’s latest proposals on reforming working life.

While it was something of a climb-down from Juha Sipilä’s original plans to make it much easier for small businesses to fire staff, there’s a pragmatic view that there might be bigger political fish to fry.

“I sincerely hope that now these troubles are over and we can get back to normal business. Labour market issues aver very important and always in the government’s agenda” says Antti Kurvinen, a Centre Party MP from Vaasa.

“Of course this has been damaging to both sides, to government parties and labour unions. These political strikes are not easy for both parties, because I know that younger workers are not very eager to go on political strikes, and most of the Finnish workers are not voting for the Social Democrats or Left Alliance, they are not as leftist as they were a few decades ago” he tells News Now Finland.

The autumn battle with unions saw tens of thousands of workers in different sectors stage strikes in opposition to the government’s proposals that companies with 20 or fewer workers would have an easier time if they want to fire staff. Hours of talks between the sides lead to a watered-down compromise that all sides seem able to live with, although it’s up to individual unions whether to call off strikes.

“The Centre Party and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä are obviously glad these conflicts with labour unions are at last finally now being dealt with and there’s always this social and healthcare reform sote coming up, so it’s important for the government to have these labour union issues behind them, because sote is not done. It’s far from being done” says politics researcher Jenni Karimäki.

Antti Kurvinen says that while there won’t be “any big new legislative initiatives” coming up for the remainder of this parliament, there are dozens of proposals already in the system that have to be completed.

The most important and controversial is sote reform, but there’s also bills on animal welfare, land appropriation and the new intelligence legislation to get done by the time parliament is dissolved before the spring general election.

“There’s a lot of proposals that should be finished, and we only have four and a half months to do the work” says Kurvinen.

Back to work for Blues heavy hitter Timo Soini

The fortunes of the smallest party in government Blue Reform are on life support if you believe opinion polls, which give them just 2% support.

This week, foreign minister Timo Soini returns to work after a sick leave absence during much of October, after he was admitted to hospital suffering from a severe skin infection.

Jenni Karimäki predicts some modest results at the next election for the Blues, who currently have 19 MPs and five government ministers.

“I think they will probably get some of those prominent cabinet members elected. Whether they will get 10 MPs I am not sure. It’s a possibility, especially if Soini decides to run for parliament. No matter what, he will get big support so he might be able to bring along a couple of candidates also” she says.

Soini has indicated that he’ll make an announcement over Christmas about his next political steps: whether it’s retiring from public life, run for parliament again, become a candidate in the European Parliament elections or do something else – like take up a plum Finnish diplomatic assignment.