A new political movement launched over the weekend aims to increase transparency in Finnish political decision making, and empower voters to have more direct input in the process.
The Movement Now Liike Nyt concept is being spearheaded by businessman, reality TV show host and MP Harry ‘Hjallis’ Harkimo who quit the National Coalition Party last week; and former Social Democrat MP Mikael Jungner, who was also previously the managing director of state-funded broadcaster YLE. The other co-founders of the movement include TV talk show host Tuomas Enbuske, as well as entrepreneurs, a political researcher and a communications agency boss. The seven are funding the venture themselves, with Harkimo in charge.
Movement Now stresses that it has no specific political affiliation, and doesn’t intend to become a political party in its own right. Instead, the founders share a mash-up of ideologies.
“Our idea was to find the best from the Greens, National Coalition Party and Social Democrats” says co-founder Mikael Jungner.
“There are four core values that we appreciate. Climate change, taking care of people who need help, the market economy and entrepreneurship” he tells News Now Finland.
More Public Involvement
The movement founders first started discussing the idea of creating a new political movement about six months ago, but plans came to a head at the end of last week when Harkimo quit his party over sharp disagreements about social and healthcare reform, a flagship coalition government policy.
The idea is that each week Movement Now will post two questions for discussion on its website, supported with facts from experts, and then registered users can weigh in with their comments for or against. At the end of the week, Hjallis Harkimo will take a look at the discussion, and decide how it influences him in parliament.
“I would say we are like Airbnb. They are a hotel without hotel rooms. We are a party without members” explains Jungner.
“It is a forum where people can talk, interact, vote about different topics weekly and we have one MP in parliament who can look at the interaction and decide himself how he will vote. But the point is not really the voting, it is the discussing and interacting. If you want to get the most out of the skills and knowledge of people, you must interact with people”.
Movement Now says they haven’t tried to poach any other MPs because they didn’t want to bring down the government, and Harkimo will likely vote with his former party on main issues – the exception being social and healthcare reform.
But with the government enjoying only a slim majority in parliament already, Harkimo’s defection will have put them on notice that they’re potentially vulnerable to pressure from his nascent political movement.
“From June we will start to build up our own political agenda. If it will be a success, we won’t become a party, but we will help people from this community to run in elections” explains Jungner, who stresses that Finland’s big political parties shouldn’t be worried about Movement Now.
“We are trying to change how politics works. Our goal is that all the parties will change they way they operate […] our aim is not to gain power and change things. Our aim is to launch this startup, and maybe it will succeed, and maybe other parties will follow and it disrupts the way politics is done” he says.
Jungner says that the initial reaction from the political establishment was “really negative” but on Sunday, education minister Sanni Grahn-Laasonen (NCP) wrote a blog looking at the positive aspects of the new movement.
“I think there was this first shock while the parties thought it was a new competitor, let’s kick their ass! But when they see this might be something different, the negative comments have vanished, at least in public. And now they are a little bit curious about what is happening” says Jungner.
From within Harkimo’s former political party, he gets qualified support from fellow MP Elina Lepomäki.
“I think Finnish politics needs plenty of new ideas, that’s not the question! The question is whether we need a new party or not. Whatever [Movement Now] turns out to be, it sounds at least interesting, but we need more profound reform of the structure of politics” she tells News Now Finland.
Lepomäki has been something of a ‘change agent’ herself within the National Coalition Party, whether challenging Alexander Stubb for party chair; or saying she’ll likely vote against the government’s plans for social and healthcare reform as they currently stand.
Underscoring how difficult it is to break through in politics, Lepomäki notes that Movement Now made a big media splash because of the well-known figures launching it.
“If you are known from whatever connection or whatever reason already, then it gives you a huge privilege when it comes to the election because you don’t need to spend money buying awareness among the voters because they already know you exist. But it costs a lot of money to even establish oneself” she says.
Lepomäki says she won’t be joining Movement Now, although they do plan to support candidates in parliament – sort of like the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party in the USA.
“We need more visions and ideologies in politics that are competing. That is the whole idea of democracy that people get to vote for different ideas and visions” she says.
Finland’s Recent Political ‘Movements’
In the last few years, Finland has seen a number of fresh political parties make limited breakthroughs.
In summer 2017 when the Finns Party split in half, 20 MPs with the new Blue Future Party stayed in the coalition government.
And at the 2017 municipal elections, the Pirate Party, Liberal Party and Feminist Party all enjoyed modest success at local council level. Rising to the level within the public consciousness where voters will actually cast a ballot for a new party is no easy task.
“Parties outside parliament don’t get media attention, and that is a challenge. But it is much easier now than five to ten years ago, because we no longer rely on the main media outlets, we can get our message on social media rather than traditional media which is no longer so important” explains Juhani Kähärä, Chairman of the Liberal Party who was voted to the Espoo City Council in 2017.
The Liberals started life as the Whisky Party, handing out free samples of whisky from a picnic table outside the Slush startup expo in Helsinki. A few years later they changed their name and registered as a fully-fledged political party.
In terms of ideology, Kähärä sees his party as attracting ‘urban liberal’ voters, with its mix of liberal European values and economic policies. He identifies several politicians from the National Coalition Party and the Greens who would feel ideologically at home with the Liberals, but concedes that it would be highly unlikely for any current MPs to jump ship to a nationally rather obscure political party.
“I think that it is still very hard for parliamentarians to jump into a new party. So we first have to build our organisation from scratch and make it to parliament, and after that we are there for parliamentarians to make a move” says Kähärä.