By Anna Silander (University of Nottingham)
On Sunday, the Finnish electorate voted for a change in the government with the centre-right National Coalition Party, previously in the opposition, securing the largest vote share with 20.8%, increased by 3.8% from 2019. Thus it is their leader, Petteri Orpo, who will begin the negotiations for the next coalition government with a tricky months ahead. The radical right-wing populist, Finns Party, increased their vote share by 2.6%, becoming the second largest party with 20.1%, which is their best ever result and is followed by the Social Democrats, previously in government, who also increased their share by 2.2%, finishing with 19.9%. Thus the three biggest parties resulting in very narrow margin of each other.
The voter turnout reached 71.9%, which is 0.2% less than in 2019. In Finland, the actual polling day is preceded by a week-long “pre-voting” period during which voting is also made possible in different institutions, including hospitals, prisons and army barracks (Finland has a national military service, which is mandatory for males when they turn 18 and voluntary for women). The new composition of the parliament has 46% women and an average age of the MPs is 47 years. The two biggest individual vote shares went to the two female leaders of the Finns Party, Riikka Purra, and Sanna Marin, the previous Social Democrat prime minister, who has become very popular abroad and whose result as a sitting prime minister is solid. Purra receiving the biggest individual result in the country is also impressive since the previous term was her first in the parliament.
Compromising with the Social Democrats
Although, the Social Democrats did increase their vote share, with the impressive result to Marin herself, it was the other coalition members that were punished by the voters. Green parties, the Centre Party and the Left Alliance, all were the losers on Sunday, which prompted the leader of the Left Alliance, Li Anderson (another female leader), commenting the results by using a somewhat popular Finnish saying that she was f***ing gutted like a small animal, which if put it in more relatable terms could translate into being pissed off beyond belief. Of the nine parties and one independent MP, altogether 200 MPs, Orpo now has to find a workable solution for a government, over 101 MPs, which won’t be easy. He has, mainly speaking, two choices, whether he’ll lean to the right or the left.
The National Coalition Party campaigned on a fiscal promise to cut government spending, accusing the previous executive of fiscal irresponsibility, and they have made it clear that the cuts are a compulsory coalition demand for them. This makes the coalition with the Social Democrats difficult as the cuts will most likely hit low-income families and those relaying on state benefits. Nevertheless, their vice-leader, Matias Mäkynen has already said that the party is seeking a place in the government if the cuts on the budget would be made humanely. Whereas, the leader of the Centre Party, Annika Saarikko, another female leader and previously in the government, has already made clear that their term will be now spend in the opposition and thus are out of the negotiations (not that it would be unheard of that the position would change in the coming months when negotiations begin…). It is also expected that she will stand down as a leaders after the disappointing result.
Neither the Green nor Left Alliance have made similar comments, which would indicate that they’d be willing to see how the negotiations start, although they may be reluctant to firstly make compromises needed to work with the National Coalition Party, particularly so the latter, and secondly fearful if another term in the government will further risk their support. However, especially the Greens, may view government participation central to their agenda and could argue that their coalition involvement is so that they can influence the decisions taken on the environment. Both parties, as well as the Social Democrats, made it clear during the campaign that they are not willing to share the cabinet with the Finns Party. Thus it is also possible that keeping the Finns Party out of the coalition will be playing a role in the Social Democrats and the Greens calculations.
With the Social Democrats, the Greens, and possible either the Swedish People’s Party of Finland (more about them a bit later) and/or the Christian Democrats, Orpo would be leading a strong enough government. Yet, a left leaning government would most likely mean that it would be the National Coalition that would need to significantly compromise so Orpo will most likely turn his attention to the right first. But this is with no problems either.
Swing to the right
Within the next few weeks, Orpo will send a questioner to other parties, which will form the basis of the coalition formation. After the last 2019 elections the then leader of the Social Democrats, Antti Rinne, who didn’t get re-elected on Sunday, worded the question so that the Finns Party was excluded straight away. He asked if the party was onboard on making Finland carbon neutral by 2035. Although, the National Coalition Party is committed to this, Orpo might not be able to word the initial question similarly because, most likely, he’ll need the Finns Party’s cooperation. Perhaps one of the crucial questions is how much do the Finns Party want a place in the government.
Intriguingly, the Finns Party did not draft an overall election manifesto, only a few documents outlining their agenda on different issues, which would suggest that they are willing to be flexible and a place in the government is attractive to them. However, not only have the Finns Party been campaigning against, what they call expensive carbon neutral policies but they are also against labour force immigration, which is something that the National Coalition Party deems imperative for the Finnish economy. How much would they both budge to reach an agreement on these two issues is difficult to guess. And that’s not all.
A coalition between the two parties would only result in 94 MPs so more friends are needed. If the two can agree on the main programme, the Christian Democratic Party shouldn’t be too difficult to get onboard, which still only totals at 99 MPs. To get closer to the 101, they could try and get a business man, turned to a populist politician, Hjallis Harkimo from Movement Now-party onboard but that still doesn’t reach majority.
Next option is the Swedish People’s Party of Finland, which would take the number of MPs to workable 110 and their female leader (yes, another female leader), Anna-Maja Henriksson, has commented that the party is willing to participate in the coalition formation negotiations. Their attitudes do differ from the Finns Party and they stated during the election campaign that they were not keen to share a coalition with them but may feel that participating in the government is more important to secure the Swedish-speaking minority’s place in Finland. But here we have another hurdle, the Finns Party have long campaigned against the Swedish language’s position in Finland, which is the second official language and mandatory subject in schools. Thus one would assume that the only way to get the Swedish People’s Party in the government is to secure the continuation of the language’s position.
So will the Finns Party promise compromises on immigration, climate and the role of Swedish language in the Finnish society or will the National Coalition Party need to compromise somewhat on the first two since the coalition with the left leaning parties seem difficult, although not impossible?
The Swedish People’s Party of Finland is in a pretty strong position with their 4.3% vote share, equalling 9 MPs. If the negotiations suggest that the new prime minister would have to compromise more with the left leaning parties in government, he may prefer sharing the coalition with the Finns Party as their main ally and this is where the help from the Swedish People’s Party would be necessary. However, the Swedish People’s Party may prefer a place in a government that has the Social Democrats in it rather than a coalition partnership with the Finns Party further complicating the negotiations.
Furthermore, although, the Centre Party announced that they won’t be participating in the coalition and that after the disappointing result their place is in the opposition, they shouldn’t be completely ruled out. They could sit in either of the possible coalitions and as with the Greens, they could argue that they entered to make sure only responsible decisions are taken. And if they decide to pursuit a place in the government, calculating how a term in the Social Democrats led one resulted in electoral disappointment, they may prefer more right-leaning one, which would make the Finns Party’s coalition participation highly likely.
So the main question is how will the National Coalition Party have as their main partner in the coalition, the second biggest the Finns Party or the third biggest the Social Democrats; right or left; old or new. And who will be the smaller parties to guarantee majority in both options. One thing is for sure, it won’t be easy months ahead for Orpo but by the time the Finnish people celebrate the nightless night at mid-summer we should know which way he decided to lean and from which side he found his allies.
Photo source: https://www.karjalainen.fi/kotimaa/ari-helmisen-nakokulma-orpo-purra-ja-marin-tarisevat-vaali-iltaan-saakka-vain-yhdella-aihetta-hymyyn?fbclid=IwAR0ow_g8OiY_F-JNgDj05LayxCae3TEBMxZgXkWEgoKZ2_Ys453Y0KWJexQ