Finland: Massive protest vote in elections

Right wing populist ‘True Finns’ third biggest party

Sunday’s parliamentary election in Finland was a dramatic blow to the established parties, and especially to the Prime Minister, Mari Kiviniemi’s, Center party. Almost from nowhere, the right-wing populist True Finns increased their vote by more than 15%, polling 19% and becoming the third biggest party, just narrowly behind the ‘social democratic’ SDP (19.1%,) and the conservative, Coalition party (20.4%). The election saw a clear protest vote against the “big three” (SDP, Center and Coalition party) who, in various combinations, have ruled Finland for more than half a century.

Even if the True Finns have an anti-immigration position, they have some differences from racist parties elsewhere in Europe. They have been given publicity through their leader, Timo Soini. With a kind of “good cop – bad cop” method, Soini did not focus on anti-immigrant propaganda. He has instead been attacking the growing gap between rich and poor, the establishment parties and their support for the EU (and especially the “bailouts” for Greece, Ireland and now Portugal). “He is the Finnish Robin Hood, takes from the rich and gives to the poor”, said one True Finns supporter during election night, for example.

When asked after the election how Finnish policies should change he called for “social justice, work for Finnish people, entrepreneurship and independence”. “This a victory of the people. You can’t just let the same parties rule decade after decade”. The True Finns’ criticism of the EU also expressed, in a distorted way, the deep anger against the negative effects on ordinary people that the neoliberal attacks, connected to EU, have had. The True Finns have portrayed EU rescue packages as Finnish people “saving the wasteful Greece”. It is now an open question whether the new Finnish parliament will accept the Finnish part of the “bailout” for Portugal.

In comparison to the racist Sweden Democrats, elected to the Swedish parliament last autumn, the True Finns does not have a history stemming from the “white power” movement, but in a rural populist party, founded in the 1950s. Having said that, with time, the party has become more anti-immigrant and racist. They want to decrease immigration (which is already extremely low in Finland), some of their candidates talk about “asylum tourism” and have led smear campaigns against Muslims. Leading party members, like Helsinki-based Jussi Halla-aho, based his whole campaign on scaremongering against immigrants, in the same way as the Sweden Democrats.

Growing anger

Growing anger against the political establishment, living in a completely different reality than millions of workers and youth is a European and international trend. However in Finland, because of the tradition of consensus among the “big three”, this sentiment is extremely strong. Workers don’t see any alternatives. No matter who they vote for, they get the same people, the same parties and the same right-wing policies in government. The crisis, which hit Finland very hard, and which the Finnish employers’ union has used to attack workers’ rights and fire thousands, has aggravated this distrust even more. Timo Soini has skillfully exploited this feeling and anger, directing it in a nationalist way.

The Left Alliance, which also has a history of backing Social Democratic governments, for example when big cuts were made to welfare during the 1990s, has not been able to channel the anger with the way society is going. They have no alternative to capitalism, are absent from all struggles and focus only on parliamentary work. In the election, they lost three seats and polled 8.1%. However, with the lack of a left alternative of struggle, they still attract some radical youth. The Greens lost even more, as they had backed the last government.

Even if there are differences between the True Finns and more open racist parties in Europe, they still pose a big threat. There are racists within their ranks and, with no real alternative to the policies of the big three, it is likely that they consciously will play the racist card more. We have also already started to see, as in Denmark for example, how the established parties copy such policies. It is still an open question whether the True Finns will be a part of the new government. It is not excluded that Finland could have a situation similar to Belgium, where talks stall and it takes months to form a government.

Finland shows the enormous political vacuum that has been created. Without a working class alternative, the political vacuum can be filled by other forces, risking a division of the working class, and giving no real alternative to the policies directed by big business, making the rich richer, while workers and youth pay.

A new mass party of the working class must be built, based on struggle against capitalism and all the attacks made by big business and their governments of the “big three”. Only a program based on democratic socialism, where big businesses are owned, controlled and run democratically, and resources are distributed according to need, can give a solution. In the last few years, there have been several brave strikes by the Finnish working class. With growing anti-racist anger among many youths, there a good base for building a real political alternative, and exposing false alternatives like that of the True Finns.

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April 2011