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Political Parties

PartySeats
2007
(2003)
% of votes
2007
(2003)
Centre Party of Finland51 (55)23.1 (24.7)
National Coalition Party50 (40)22.3 (18.6.)
Social Democratic Party of Finland45 (53)21.4 (24.5)
Left Alliance17 (19)8.8 (9.9)
Green League15 (14)8.5 (8.0)
Christian Democrats7 (7)4.9 (5.3)
Swedish People's Party of Finland9 (8)4.6 (4.6)
The True Finns5 (3)4.1 (1.6)
Others1 (1)2.3 (2.8)

During its approximately one-hundred-year history, the Finnish political party system has been relatively stable. The historical background for the party divisions includes the ideal of nationality, the language issue (Swedish is a minority and official language), the socialist versus non-socialist divide, representation of the rural population, and the two-way division of the political Left. A recent phenomenon has been the rise of the environmentalist Green League, first to Parliament in 1987 and then into Government from 1995 to 2002 and again from 2007 on. In Finland's multiparty system, support for the parties runs approximately along the following lines: the three biggest parties each have around 20-25% of popular support and half a dozen smaller parties compete for the remainder.

In the type of party-based parliamentarism practised in Finland, political coalitions may be large and unconventional in composition. Interparty relationships may overshadow formal institutional ones. Decision making requires the formation of coalitions and the acceptance of compromises. Nowadays, Finnish politics is characterised by pragmatism and a strong penchant towards consensus - factors that have not always been present. This situation limits the degree of freedom that parties have to articulate their ideologies or programmes and implement them.

The political rhythm in Finland is set by parliamentary elections held every four years and presidential elections held every six years. Whereas even the new Constitution does not recognise the fact, parliamentarism receives some of its energy and dynamism from the ever-alert news media, from pressure groups and from the internationalization of politics and the globalization of the economy.

In Parliament it is essential for the parties to cooperate among themselves in the preparation of the budget and other legislation, but the representatives of the parties who are Government ministers are traditionally loyal to the Government's line and the opposition parties do not normally form strong coalitions. Since the time when Finland became independent, the Centre Party (formerly the Agrarian Party) has been a kind of median party in government, being represented in almost all Governments, but today this role has largely been taken over by the Social Democratic Party. Government coalitions may be large, and their composition politically unconventional. For example, the largest right-wing party, the conservative National Coalition Party, was in government with two left-wing parties from 1995 to 2003. Since 1982, all Presidents of the Republic have come from the Social Democratic Party. Before that there had not been a single President of left-wing provenance. In 2000, Tarja Halonen became Finland's first female President and was re-elected in 2006.

Finland's proportional representation system encourages a multitude of political parties and has resulted in many coalition governments. Political activity by communists was legalized in 1944, and although four major parties have dominated the postwar political arena, none now has a majority position. In March 2007 parliamentary elections, the Center Party (Keskusta), traditionally representing rural interests, kept its position as the largest party, getting 23.1% of the votes. The Conservative Party's support increased by 3.7 percentage points, the most of all parties, and it received 22.3% of all votes, making it the second largest political party in the country. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) suffered a defeat in these elections and fell to third position among the larger parties, receiving 21.4% of the votes.

Of the other parties, the True Finns, the Green League, and the Swedish People's Party were able to gain seats in parliament. The Center then formed a four-party governing coalition with the Conservatives, the Swedish People's Party, and the Greens. The Conservative Party received the portfolios of foreign minister, finance minister, and defense minister, among others, and became an important participant again after a long absence.

Centre Party Secretary General Jarmo Korhonen and his team filled the party campaign coffers with donations from more or less dubious businessmen, some of them now in the middle of police investigations. Semi-criminal businessmen financed the party in the 2007 parliamentary elections and hoped for favorable zoning decisions for shopping malls in return. The Nova Group saga seemed to have come to a fitting close when the company fell into bankruptcy in the summer of 2009, leaving property worth only 15,000 euros, including laptops, books and a massage chair. But by late 2010 the Centre Party financing scandal ravaged Finland for four years already, with no end in sight.

In the middle of the public outcry, the Centre Party shrewdly changed tactics and published a list of its recent financiers, and asked that other parties follow suit. This smart move left the other two big parties, the moderately conservative Coalition Party and the Social Democratic Party, in an awkward position.

In December 2009, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen went public with his intention to leave office. Vanhanen aspired to dominate politics until 2015 by seeking a rare third term as prime minister in the next parliamentary elections in 2011. This would have made him even more exceptional, since he became prime minister by pure chance at a few hours' notice in June 2003. He took over from Anneli Jäätteenmäki, who was forced to resign after less than two months in office.

Several potential contenders gracefully bowed out of the race and four emerged. For months they campaigned heavily in town hall meetings around the country. In April 2010 the Centre Party convened to elect a new chair, who will also become the next prime minister of Finland. With dismal poll showings and an endless election financing scandal, the party was in shambles and needed desperately a fresh start. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, the present Centre Party chair, stepped back from the front row of Finnish politics amid wild speculation over the real reasons for his surprise move. With Vanhanen at the helm, the Centre Party had never won an election decisively, be it parliamentary, local, presidential or European Parliament.

Vanhanen had weathered countless storms while in power, most of them of his own doing. He divorced, broke up with a lady friend via a text message and was mixed up in an election financing scandal and accused of corruption. After more than six years as prime minister, why not enjoy life - the fulfillment of which is, in Vanhanen's own words: "A steak, a baked potato, a glass of cold Coke, my couch and Everwood on the telly."

Mari Kiviniemi, the Centre Party's 41-year old Minister for Local Government, became the new Prime Minister on 22 June 2010. As a country-girl-turned-urban, Kiviniemi gave a new face to a party rooted in the countryside and would also have some appeal for undecided urban voters. Kiviniemi was the Centre Party's second female leader. The first, Anneli Jäätteenmäki, had to resign in 2003 due to her involvement in an unprecedented political scandal dubbed the Finnish Iraqgate. But a symptom of Kiviniemi's vulnerability is that she was once party vice chair, but was not re-elected.

A populist party called the "True Finns" has suddenly turned into a political force to reckon with in Finland. Its rise has been spectacular, but its past is littered with equally spectacular falls. With a good six months to go before the 2011 parliamentary elections, by late 2010 the normally all-but-unshakable tectonic plates of politics suddenly started to move in Finland. Were the trend shown in several recent polls to materialise, a pan-European populist surge may come true also here. But in contrast to many of its European counterparts, the Finnish version was, at least for the time being, neither that radical nor that new.

The Finnish version of the populist party is called the "True Finns." After staying out of the political limelight for all 15 years of its existence, the party snatched fourth place in a September poll by Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. It broke the 10 percent barrier in the opinion polls for the first time in summer 2010, and the latest survey recorded a 12.5 percent rating. Such a result would give them close to 20 seats in Parliament.

The True Finns, long known for their anti-EU sentiments, aptly took advantage of the Greek financial crisis in the summer of 2009 and objected to Finnish participation in the international rescue plan. The Social Democrats, the leading opposition party, also voted against the plan. The vote was a first of its kind for the party, traditionally known for its pro-EU stance.

The True Finns have made most headway among the respective electorates of the big three parties. A recent poll conducted by the leading daily Helsingin Sanomat dramatically showed the Social Democrats loosing a quarter of their following among blue-collar workers in the last four years. Meanwhile, the True Finns' standing has tripled among them.

Were the True Finns to become the fourth-largest party in Finland's 200-member Parliament, it would mark a major shift in the political landscape. Traditionally the Centre Party, the moderately conservative Coalition Party and the Social Democratic Party have formed the leading troika, well ahead the other parties. Behind the big three, the Greens have in the recent years outgrown the former communists, earlier known as one of the Big Four parties. Now, the True Finns may well beat the Greens in the elections.



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