Finland’s ruling three-party coalition is at risk of collapsing due to the changing of the guard at the Finns Party, a number of leading legislators warned on Saturday.
Jussi Halla-aho, who is known for his hard-line views and outspoken comments on immigration and multiculturalism, was elected as the chairperson of the populist party by an absolute majority in Jyväskylä on Saturday.
He has promised to place greater emphasis on issues important to the rank and file of the party – namely, immigration and the integration of the European Union – and is widely expected to live up to his promises due to the strong mandate he received from his fellow members of the Finns Party. Halla-aho won more than a half (949) of votes cast in the first round of voting to beat his closest rival, Sampo Terho, by a margin of 320 votes and guarantee that no second round of voting was necessary.
His emergence to the helm of one of the three ruling parties could ignite a coalition crisis, admitted both Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) and Minister of Finance Petteri Orpo (NCP).
“This is a tough spot for the government. We’ll decide together how to proceed,” he commented to Helsingin Sanomat in Estonia on Saturday.
The National Coalition will consider whether or not the preconditions for continuing the coalition co-operation remain in place following the change of leadership at the Finns Party, according to Orpo.
“Several open questions arose during the course of the leadership campaign and already before it when it comes to the Finns Party,” he commented in an interview with Verkkouutiset on Saturday.
The National Coalition, he emphasised, will only be part of a ruling coalition the policies of which are founded on positive and sustainable values, such as inalienable human rights and principles of the rule of law.
“It’s also a question of principles, the principles on which the government programme was built,” he said according to Helsingin Sanomat.
Halla-aho, who is currently a Member of the European Parliament, dismissed such concerns as unwarranted in his acceptance speech in Jyväskylä on Sunday, assuring that no dramatic changes will be introduced to the political platform of the Finns Party and reminding that he is simply demanding that the government implement its action plan in full.
“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable demand,” he said.
His election victory has also stirred up concerns among the ranks of the opposition parties.
Li Andersson, the chairperson of the Left Alliance, argued that snap elections are required due to the growing divide between the three ruling parties. The Finns Party, she says, is likely to shake up its political platform considerably regardless of whether or not its newly-elected chairperson decides to take on a ministerial portfolio.
If the party decides to remain a part of the coalition government, the emphasis placed on its new platform would be disproportionately high in comparison to its vote share in the previous parliamentary elections, according to Andersson.
“It would be good to hold new elections to guarantee consumer protection for voters,” she argues in a press release.
Ville Niinistö, the chairperson of the Green League, estimated that the election result will test the commitment of the Centre and the National Coalition – the two other members of the three-party ruling coalition – to fostering their equality and tolerance-based ideological legacy.
“The Finns Party will become a single-issue party under the leadership of Halla-aho: a divisive party that seeks to erode the position of minorities and confine the global position of Finland. Finland cannot afford to have such a party as part of the ruling coalition,” he wrote on Facebook.
“What is at stake is more than the fate of a single government,” he added.
Sipilä, Orpo and Halla-aho will meet for the first time after the elections in Helsinki on Monday. Sipilä estimated in an interview on YLE Radio Suomi on Sunday that the meeting will determine whether or not continuing the coalition co-operation is possible.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva