Finnish Parliamentary Elections 2019

After the 14 April parliamentary elections the Finnish parliament is more left-wing, more gender equal and younger. Among 200 MPs 91 are now women. Left Alliance got its first victory in 24 years and Social Democrats in 20 years, while Green League got its best result in parliamentary elections. According to voter advice applications the new MPs of almost all parties are more left-wing than those in former parliament. This is especially remarkable in parliamentary groups of Green League and Swedish Peoples’ Party. However, the red-green parties (SDP, Green League and Left Alliance) failed to get even close to majority by getting only 76 MPs out of total 200 MPs.

The most important issues of the election campaign were the failed reform of social service and health care which was promoted as a pact between leading parties in government, Centre Party (support self-ruling regions as the base for organising health care) and National Coalition Party (supporting more freedom of choice and privatisation), migration and climate change. The nationalist-populist Finns party differed from all the others parties with a climate change scepticism and a hard-line migration policy and succeeded in increasing its support from below 10% in opinion polls in December to 17.5% in elections. Moreover, its support increased from 15.5% of the votes given during early voting period to 19.6% of votes on Election Day. The Finns party was clearly the most popular party according to Election Day votes. The turnout, 72.0% was slightly higher than in 2015 elections.

Around 50% of votes were given during the early vote period 3-9 April. Early voting has become popular in Finland especially among people living in sparsely populated countryside, aged voters and those whose party choice in certain. Election day votes are given more among young, urban and uncertain voters.

Social democratic party (SDP) was leading opinion polls as the main opposition party. However, its party chairperson Antti Rinne, the likely future prime minister, was not very successful in campaign debates and the result 17.7% of votes (+1.2%) and 40 MPs (+6) is the third worse in the party history (in 1962 and 2015 it had less MPs and only in 2015 a smaller share of votes). After four years of centre-right coalition the result is not good, not even satisfactory.

The Finns party, which got a new more hard-line anti-migration leadership in 2017, got only slightly less votes than SDP. Although the party got a smaller share of votes 17.5% (-0.2%) than in 2015 elections, and 39 MPs, just one MP more than in 2015, the result looks more as a victory if it is compared with 17 MPs which the party had before elections. The party chairperson, currently MEP, Jussi Halla-aho, got 30 527 votes in Helsinki district and was the most popular candidate in the whole country. The Finns party increased its support especially in Oulu district in Northern Finland, which was a place where sex crimes against minors were committed by immigrants which came public in January 2019. In these elections, the Finns party succeeded in collecting voters from uncertain voters who opposed migration and actions aimed to reduce climate change. All eight other parties in parliament agreed during election campaign period to act to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees, although only Green League and Left Alliance took environmental issues seriously.

Blue Reform, the splinter group formed by the moderate wing of the Finns Party in 2017 and staying in coalition government with National Coalition Party and Centre Party with five ministers and 17 MPs, got only 1.0% of votes and not a single MP.

Centre Party, a centre-right party which represents rural areas and small agricultural population, got its worst result since 1917 by getting only 13.8% of votes (-7.3%) and 31 MPs (-18). The party lost its only MP in Helsinki and the party chairperson, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä lost almost half of his own votes in Oulu district. The unpopular chairperson will most likely resign or will certainly loose his post in next party congress.

Among the government parties, the National Coalition Party got a better result by getting 17.0% and 38 MPs (+1). The support of National Coalition Party decreased by 1.2% and was seen as a failure of the party chairperson Petteri Orpo, the current minister of finances. The share of votes for the National Coalition Party was the lowest in 53 years although the more split political field gave more MPs than expected on the basis of share of votes. It is likely that coalition party will change its chairperson in next party congress. Its main failure was the support of health care privatisation and unclear reactions to scandals in private nursing homes of elderly people in January.

Also the climate change issue might have been harmful for the National Coalition Party, the increased focus on countering climate change may have moved uncertain voters to the Finns party, while opposite policies suggested by some candidates may have caused losing of votes to the Greens. Also budget cuts in education were a topic cause the movement from the National Coalition Party to the Greens. Even the campaign slogan of the National Coalition party “We believe in Finland” was seen as arrogant, although the campaign slogan of the Centre party was not better: “Actions worth of Finland” while the Centre party had promoted austerity and centralising policies which were in conflict with the traditional values of the farmer party focusing on decentralisation, solidarity and small people.

The Green League got its best result in parliamentary elections by getting 11.5% of votes (+3.0%) and 20 MPs (+5). The result was, however, smaller than in local elections in 2017 and less than in opinion polls just few months before elections. One of the problem for the Greens was unsuccessful party chairperson Touko Aalto who was replaced by interim party chairperson Pekka Haavisto in November 2017. Touko Aalto failed even to get re-elected to the parliament. One change of MPs is still possible because the Greens are only seven votes short of one seat in Lapland district (Centre party would lose it). The final vote count will be done until Wednesday 17 April.

Left Alliance, the red-green radical left party, succeeded well in elections although the final opinion polls prognosed even higher support from 8.7% to 9.8%. The result 251 254 votes, 8.2% (+1.1%) and 16 MPs (+4) is the first victory in parliamentary elections in 24 years. Of 16 MPs seven are new and seven are men. Li Andersson, candidate in Turku region, was the second most popular candidate in whole Finland (and the most popular woman) and got 24 404 votes. The election slogan for Left Alliance was “A just Finland for all not for the few” and the party focused on inequality, climate change and opposing racism. Together with Greens, Left Alliance was seen as a counterweight for the populist right.

Swedish people’s party, a centre-right party representing the Swedish-speaking minority, got 9 MPs, or 10 including the MP of autonomous Aland islands which is a member of the Swedish parliamentary group, which it had also in the former parliament. Christian Democrats, a small centre-right party focusing on traditional Christian values, succeeded getting five MPs as in the former parliament. A new populist non-party group, Movement Now, a splitter from National Coalition Party, got one MP and 2.3% of votes.

Other minor parties got only a small share of votes, of them leftist are Feminist party 6669 votes (0.2%), Communist party 4285 votes (0.1%) and Communist workers’ party 1294 votes. The votes given for those parties did not affect the result of Left Alliance. On the other hand, various small parties of nationalist and extreme right got around 0.9% of votes and helped that the Finns party did not became the largest party.
The coalition formation talks are expected to be more difficult than usually although the Finnish parties can easily form even unholy coalitions and the minority government has last time existed in the 1970s.

The likely government coalition would be Social Democrats, Greens and either Centre Party or National Coalition party. The Swedish party is almost certain to be included in any coalition. SDP, Greens and Centre coalition could most likely work better, but the problem might be the bad election result of the Centre which may cause unwillingness to participate in government. Also Left Alliance could possibly be part of that coalition. The former coalition with new Finns party has majority of 108 seats, but it is unlikely, because this is the coalition which caused the major loss of the Centre party. In coalition with social democrats the Centre party has usually been more successful. A coalition around SDP and the Finns party is also unlikely, because the Greens would not be part of that coalition and a coalition with two large centre-right parties (SDP + Finns + either Centre or National Coalition) would be unthinkable for social democrats. Moreover, both SDP and National Coalition Party have denied the possibility to form a government with the Finns party.

The new government, if as it is likely, chaired by the social democratic prime minister and including also Green League, will be more focused on opposing climate change, more left-wing in its social policy, and possibly more pro-European than the former government. The lower economic growth in forthcoming years may cause the government to make budget cuts which will be unpopular. The participation of Left Alliance is possible, perhaps even likely, because the party has experience in participating in a coalition government, and because the social democrats would not like Left Alliance to stay in opposition and criticising the government from the left. On the other hand, according to party decision, Left Alliance needs to approve the participation in government by membership referendum. There is certainly a risk that the negotiated coalition may not pass the referendum, but if approved by the membership, it may decrease the criticism inside the parliamentary group. In all the times when Left Alliance has participated in government, the parliamentary group has been split because the hard-line fraction has voted against government policies.

Finland will begin the as the presidency of the Council of the European Union at the beginning of July and most likely the coalition will be formed before that date.

About the author:

Jukka Pietiläinen is Director of Left Forum. The Left Forum is building a collaborative network sharing a leftist set of values and extending from political parties to universities, research institutions and expert organizations. The member organizations of the Left Forum are the political party Left Alliance, People’s Educational Association (KSL) and Yrjö Sirola Foundation. The Left Forum is active in Transform! Europe.

Left Forum: http://vasemmistofoorumi.fi/in-english

Transform! Europe: www.transform-network.net