Kirsi Piha quits: Kokoomus rocked as Helsinki mayor candidate drops out of the race

The former politician cites a "values" difference as the reason for withdrawing from May's election, highlighting the deep rift within the National Coalition Party.

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File picture of Kirsi Piha / Credit: Instagram

The National Coalition Party candidate in the Helsinki mayoral race Kirsi Piha has announced she won’t now run for election, citing an ideological split in the party.

In a blog post titled “thank you and goodbye” Piha says that if she was Helsinki mayor she would not be able to represent the wide range of views within her party.

“The basic value of the Coalition Party is to create a prosperous and active society where everyone has the opportunity to try, work and live a good life. Everyone. It is not based on prejudiced thinking that discriminates against different groups” she says.

Piha, a former MP who hasn’t held elected office since 2003 and only announced she would be running as the Kokoomus mayoral candidate in mid-January, said she was withdrawing from the election “with a heavy heart.”

“If I weren’t sure that the majority of Coalitioners think in the same direction about Kokoomus as I do, I couldn’t be in this party. It is another matter, however, to be able to represent, as mayoral candidate, the spectrum of values ​​that is currently in the National Coalition Party”

“In the current situation, there is a real danger that I will not have the chances to succeed as a Kokoomus mayor.”

Finance Minister Petteri Orpo, MP (NCP) / Credit: Eduskunta

Reaction from the National Coalition Party

Piha’s decision, announced on Saturday evening, exposes the cracks within the National Coalition Party where a fault line lines between a pro-European, liberal and immigrant-positive, and green wing, and a strong faction further to the right which has been increasingly vocal in local and national politics.

At national level the NCP has been slipping in opinion polls even as the Finns Party has remained strong and a school of thought within Kokoomus sees merit in targeting those voters on the right wing rather than embracing more centrist voters further left.

NCP chairman Petteri Orpo describes Piha’s decision as “disappointing” and says that his party’s values are “freedom, responsibility and democracy, equality of opportunity, civilization, encouragement, tolerance and caring.”

Orpo is facing pressure on his leadership due to stalled polling numbers and if the party has a disappointing showing in May’s municipal elections – particularly in the flagship Helsinki mayoral race, where Kokoomus mayor Jan Vapaavuori has been the high profile incumbent for the last four years – then Orpo may well face a leadership challenge by the summer.

In the short term Kokoomus will have to find a new candidate to be the face of their Helsinki municipal election campaign. Although the capital’s mayor is not directly elected, the party with the most councilors will get the chance to install their preferred politician as mayor, and therefore each tries to choose a high profile candidate to represent them in the race.

In the internal Kokoomus selection process Kirsi Piha beat out Wille Rydman, a local politician with an immigrant-critical track record who is considered further to the right of the party. However it is not certain that mainstream Kokoomus members would warm to such a controversial politician leading the ticket in Helsinki.

Daniel Sazanov, chairman of the Kokoomus group on Helsinki City Council has already indicated he would consider entering the race, while other names bandied about include Helsinki MP Juhana Vartiainen.

File picture showing detail on exterior of Helsinki City Hall / Credit: News Now Finland

Mayoral candidates offer kind words 

Some of the other candidates to be mayor of Helsinki offered kinds words for Kirsi Piha on her departure.

The Centre Party’s candidate Eeva Kärkkäinen wished Piha good luck and said that “sensible people are needed across party lines”; while the Green candidate Anne Sinnemäki described Piha’s decision to drop out of the races as “surprising and confusing“; and the Social Democrat candidate Nasima Razmyar said that “politics is sometimes cruel. There is no reason for joy even when a competitor has a hard time.”