Cabinet ministers are once again a talking point in pubs.Public confidence in the Finnish Government continues to slump.

FEWER than one in four Finns view that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen (NCP) has succeeded in its responsibilities, finds a survey conducted by TNS Gallup. In contrast, 34 per cent of the respondents believe the six-party coalition has failed to carry out its duties.

The public's assessment of the Government is thus roughly as bleak as in June, when a similar survey suggested that confidence in Katainen's Cabinet had slipped to a new low.

Since then, the Government has complimented itself for its decision-making capacity, especially after it in late August unveiled the outlines of its structural policy programme concerning, for example, cuts in municipal services.

Is the Government indeed feeble?

Juhani Pehkonen, a research director at TNS Gallup, believes one should not jump to such hasty conclusions on the survey results. “The assessments can be largely attributed to the bleak economic situation. When you break down the assessments, [you see that] they are largely explained by people's perception of the economic situation,” Pehkonen elaborates.

Assessments of the Government were particularly negative in 1992, when recession gnawed away at Finns' confidence in the Cabinet of Esko Aho (Centre). At the time, most Finns were dissatisfied with the Government.

Naturally, the assessments are also an indication of the measures adopted by the Government. The efforts of the six-party coalition have been hindered by internal discord, which has jeopardised key projects including the reforms of municipal structures and the health and social care system. Meanwhile, the economy splutters, exports wane and public debt mounts.

Yet, criticism can be regarded as preferable to utter disregard, which would be manifested as a notable share of undecided respondents. Now, only four per cent of the Finns surveyed were undecided. As long as the public has an opinion on the decision-makers, there is hope for politics, views for example Ilkka Haavisto, a research manager at the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA).

Pehkonen of TNS Gallup similarly reminds that democracy is associated with doubts and criticism about the ruling power.

The previous parliamentary elections in Finland resulted in a splintered Government that lacks a common ideology. On the other hand, the Finns Party's surge has electrified politics in a manner that, at best, can promote interest in party politics.

“Politics is once again a talking point in pubs,” summarises Haavisto.

Heli Suominen – Helsingin Sanomat
Aleksi Teivainen – Helsinki Times
© Helsingin Sanomat