Biography sheds light on political intrigue and health crisis for Antti Rinne

The new book goes behind the scene of the PM's politics and his health crisis before April's general election.

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File picture of new biography of Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP) / Credit: News Now Finland

A new biography of Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP) hit the shelves on Thursday, with the PM showing up at Helsinki Book Fair to promote the launch.

The 350-page book reveals new information about Rinne’s political and personal life, and although the Prime Minister cooperated with the authors, some of the stories are disputed.

This is the first biography of a sitting Prime Minister to be published in Finland, although authors Lauri Nurmi and Matti Mörttinen say they started the project in late 2018 before Rinne won the spring general election and formed the new government.

The authors had previously written a biography about President Sauli Niinistö.

Political intrigue revealed 

A lot of the book centres around politics, as you might expect.

And one of the headline-grabbing claims is that former Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre), tried to persuade Rinne to tempt the Social Democrats into government, to replace the National Coalition Party.

At the Helsinki Book Fair, Prime Minister Rinne said the discussions were about social and healthcare reforms.

“It was a situation where there was an impasse within the government negotiations to move forward with social and healthcare reforms. As far as I’m concerned, Sipilä was seeking a way out of the situation” Rinne told reporters on Thursday morning.

Prime Minister Sipilä apparently hoped that the legislation would be easier to negotiate with the Social Democrats than with the National Coalition Party, but ultimately the political deal never happened.

Rinne rejected the offer after discussing it with former senior leaders in his own party, and came to the conclusion that joining the government without elections would actually hinder his party’s chances at the general election.

On Thursday afternoon Juha Sipilä denied that SDP had been offered a place in government in the circumstances outlined in the new biography.

File picture of Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne / Credit: SDP

Internal disputes in the Social Democrats

The book looks a little further back in Rinne’s political history, and highlights some of the issues at the party’s 2013 conference where Rinne took over from Jutta Urpilainen as party chair.

“For a long time I was talking about being the challenger, but then I became convinced by a few people that I was in the best position to go forward with this debate” Rinne said on Thursday morning.

According to the new biography, the reason for replacing the party chair was internal dissatisfaction over Urpilainen’s job performance and specifically when she agreed to reduce corporate taxation more than the SDP’s Economic Policy Group had agreed.

Close to death before general election

Antti Rinne suffered a health scare at the end of 2018 which continued into the first part of 2019, and he was absent from the campaign trail in the lead up to April’s general election.

The new biography takes a look at the seriousness of his illness.

According to the book Rinne was in a medically-induced coma in a hospital in Spain, and doctors decided to keep him sedated, rather than wake him up, three time.

“Afterwards I’ve figured out how close to death I was. When I met doctors and nurses in
Parliament in May, they said that I would have died at that place if Spanish doctors had made me wake up” Rinne is quoted as saying.

The Prime Minister continued his recovery in Finland as his health, and the election results, were at stake.

He took advice from friends about whether he could fight the election in a wheelchair, like former US President Woodrow Wilson.

“You’re not Wilson, Antti. You have to time come back to the party council meeting and after that, the party must make a decision” his friend told him.

Having a deadline, or goal, in which to get back to work in full health strengthened Rinne’s revolve to recover.

Rinne and the Social Democrats went on to win April’s general election by a very slim margin, and form a coalition government with four other political parties.

Social Democrat party leader Antti Rinne holds up congratulations declaration for ice hockey team, 27th May 2019 / Credit: Government of Finland