Government parties working to build trust after Rinne debacle

A frank assessment of how trust broke down from the people at the centre of Finland's recent government crisis.

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File picture showing interior of cabinet meeting room / Credit: Laura Kotila, VNK

Finland’s incoming prime minister says “we have a lot of work to do to rebuild trust” after ten days of political turmoil that saw the government’s junior coalition partner withdraw support for Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP), who promptly handed in his resignation.

In reality, the trust-building has already started before Sanna Marin (SDP) moves into Kesäranta, the PM’s official residence in Helsinki.

Changing the prime minister “gives the possibility for a fresh start. We hope for a re-set for the whole cooperation” says Antti Kurvinen, the Centre Party’s Parliamentary Group leader, and one of the principal architects of Rinne’s demise along with party leader Katri Kulmuni.

It’s rare in politics, Kurvinen explains, for a party in government to play a hand of cards that leads to the downfall of the sitting prime minister. But it was a matter of trust he says – trust which had been eroded for months, and culminated in Rinne’s poor handling of the postal worker’s strike.

“I have to say we are not happy about the situation that we had to say to Mr Rinne that he doesn’t have our trust any more. It wasn’t a nice decision, and we understand the road after this isn’t easy. We understand we have to show to the Social Democrats they have to trust us” Kurvinen tells News Now Finland.

The option to force Rinne out was “a bad option” but “the least bad option” according to Kurvinen.

From his party’s perspective they hope not just for a re-set but a poll bounce too, with the added bonus of burnishing Kulmuni’s fledgling reputation as a tough operator, which belies her “I’m just an ordinary girl from Lapland” image.

File picture of Antti Kurvinen MP, Centre Party Parliamentary Group leader / Credit: Keskusta

Trust exercises between parties 

One of the problems the five coalition parties had during Antti Rinne’s six month tenure was an inability to communicate – with Rinne himself prone to getting overly involved in other ministers’ portfolios.

That’s something which the Centre Party, and others, want to see change moving forward.

“I think the new government has to find ways to share information, new ways to work together” says Kurvinen, adding that nobody wants a similar situation to arise again where trust breaks down to such an extent that it threatens the government.

“During the first days and weeks of the new government there has to be discussions about the rules inside government, and there have been problems sharing information, and problems in cooperation” he concedes.

“In the Centre Party we understand that we also have to look into the mirror, and think about what we have done. We are not innocent and we understand that. We have to work with the Social Democrats and especially with the Greens” Kurvinen states.

File picture showing exterior of parliament with flowers, spring 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Reaction from Greens and Social Democrats

For their part, the Greens made no secret of the ideological difficulties of being in a coalition government with the Centre Party.

Now however, they’re stressing the need for cohesion and working towards the same government programme that all five parties signed onto in spring.

“One thing is setting the ground rules, and the way the coalition operations and improving on that” says Veli Liikanen, Secretary General for the Greens.

“It benefits all parties to communicate more, spend more time to get together and find common values. But we’re in it for the issues, the big goals we’re aiming to reach about climate change, equality and education” he says.

There’s still a tacit admission that more and better communication is the key to a trusting relationship between the three largest government parties, but Liikanen thinks the Greens have a solid history in that area.

“It requires from each party work, negotiating and working to find common solutions and this is what we Greens are good at. We’re used to negotiating, looking at problems from a pragmatic perspective, and we’re keen to find solutions with other parties” he tells News Now Finland.

File picture of Ville Skinnari (SDP), November 2019 / Credit: Laura Kotila, VNK

For the Social Democrats, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari is more circumspect.

His party was clearly stung by how swiftly the Centre Party was able to topple the prime minister, who went from ebullient last Sunday evening to out of a job by Monday lunchtime.

“We have been building up the trust in the last days” says Skinnari, in a phone call after a day packed with party meetings.

“We really appreciate the way Antti Kurvinen presented the issues [to us] and also apologised for the process” he offers.

“The only thing now is to look further and look to the future, and to start to implement the things we have agreed among the five party coalition government” Skinnari adds.

Is that a diplomatic answer?

“Well, I am sitting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs these days” he says.