Parliament Returns As 2019 Election Battle Lines Are Already Being Drawn

Members of parliament get back to work this week after their summer break - and they're already looking ahead to April's general election.

File picture of columns at Parliament building in Helsinki / Credit: iStock

Finland’s two hundred members of parliament get back to work this week after their summer break.

With just eight months still to go until the next planned general election, none of the parties in parliament are making any attempts to hide their election preparations: picking future candidates, stocking up their war chests for campaign battles, and using social media to score points against their rivals.

It’s politics as usual for Finland, which means major legislative hurdles could still cause the government to stumble.

“The situation seems pretty stable” says Jenni Karimäki, senior researcher at the University of Turku’s Centre for Parliamentary Studies.

Recently, polls show the Social Democrats beating all three of the coalition government’s parties including the National Coalition Party and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Centre Party.

“Considering that Social Democrats are the leading opposition party, in the light of history one could assume that they would have an even bigger lead” she adds.

The reform of the country’s social and welfare legislation (SOTE) has been one of the biggest projects of the current government, and will remain the biggest issue for the next term of parliament.

“The opposition under SDP’s leadership has particularly criticised the SOTE reform model. This debate will continue and in this way SDP will still be profiled as the main opposition party challenger against NCP and Centre” says Karimäki.

She notes that SOTE makes the election campaign more challenging for the government parties.

“At the moment they have such a small majority in parliament that it requires agreement between them in terms of new openings.”

Centre Party logo / Credit: Keskusta

Centre Party On Schedule

The Centre Party, currently the biggest party in parliament, says their preparation for the election and nomination of candidates are right on schedule.

“In some district organizations nomination of candidates has already expired and in some it’s still open” says party secretary Riikka Pirkkalainen via email.

“Our unambiguous goal is an election victory. In terms of support it means about the same share of votes we got in the last election.”

Pirkkalainen says the themes of the election of Centre will come more into focus when the party agrees on their election manifesto. According to her, social justice, environment and climate change are likely to play a central role in the Centre Party’s election agenda.

“I think those are the themes that will be discussed by Finnish voters during the election. To some extent the same themes that have been under discussion in Sweden during their election arrive also here for us to discuss” Pirkkalainen tells News Now Finland.

The election budget of the party will also firm up during the autumn.

“It will remain reasonable. The budget will be spent on advertising, materials and training of the candidates, for example“ Pirkkalainen says.

Pirkkalainen hopes that all the parties could together increase voters’ trust in politics with their actions.

“With a polite way of discussion we make everybody’s electioneering easier. A constructive political debate invites Finnish people to participate in decision making in the form of candidacy and voting, too.”

Party Leader Antti Rinne at SDP parliamentary group summer meeting / Credit: Sosialidemokraatit Facebook

SDP Aims For Top Spot

The Social Democrats have a clear goal for the upcoming election: they want to be the biggest party and form the government.

“We will form a government which makes important reforms in working life and improves employment” says SDP party secretary Antton Rönnholm.

“We will distribute the fruits of economic growth more equally to all Finns, not overuse natural resources and put know-how and education back in the centre and makes Finland a constructive international actor again.”

Rönnholm argues that instead of a tax reductions for high income earners, future investments are needed.

“So that every young person finds their way into working life, the livelihood of low-income improves and health and other social services for everyone improve.”

SDP hasn’t yet decided on the campaign budget but according to Rönnholm it will be comparable to previous elections.

“Nomination of candidates is now underway in every district. We will have a lot of candidates of different ages and backgrounds.”

Matias Pajula campaign team on the streets of Helsinki, April 2017 / Credit: @matiaspajula Instagram

The Future Candidate 

Matias Pajula from Helsinki started in student politics and became a member of the National Coalition Party when he was 17. Another party consideration for him was the Greens.

“It’s important to me that both the economy and the environment are in good condition for future generations. I ended up in NCP because the party is more pro-market economy” says Pajula.

Now 20-year-old Pajula serves as a deputy city councillor and is seeking a spot on his party’s list for the 2019 parliamentary elections. To him the best thing about being involved in politics is the possibility to affect change.

“I haven’t had a clear goal to achieve but I’ve moved forward according to the idea that I should be making as much chance as possible” he tells News Now Finland.

Pajula knows from last year’s municipality election experience that during campaigning days can last from early morning until late at night. However, he is already looking forward to discussions with voters.

“These discussions have developed my thinking the most. If someone has a smarter idea or a better perspective, I’m happy to take it with me.”

Pajula believes that SOTE will become one of the most hotly contested topics voters, if the long-awaited reform isn’t completed before the election date, however he still plans to work with advisors on his own manifesto, figuring out the themes that are most important to him, and his potential voters.

“To me, important issues are national defense and development of military service, environment-wise, economy and that society controls people’s lives as little as possible” he says.

File photo of tables & chairs in a classroom / Credit: iStock

Educations Still Important For Voters 

When the current centre-right government coalition came to power, it almost immediately cut hundreds of millions of euros from education budgets. According to Turku University researcher Jenni Karimäki, education will most likely be one of the major topics in the upcoming election debate.

“It’s a big theme for Greens but also SDP and and other opposition parties have told their views on what should be done with education policy. Greens also try to make climate the theme of this election” Karimäki says.

Even though SDP has been the leader in the polls for some time, Karimäki predicts a tight election battle.

“The difference between SDP and NCP has been within the margin of error. We may have to wait until the election day to see the final order”.