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Saturday 13.8.11 in Finland, National coalition party, Politics, SDP, SFP, Swedish language | Tags: candidates, election 2012, Elisabeth Rehn, Eva Biaudet, Finland, Finnish politics, Kokoomus, minorities, minority groups, National coalition party, Paavo Lipponen, Politics, president, President of the Republic, Presidential election 2012, RKP, Samlingspartiet, Sauli Niinistö, SDP, SFP, Social Democratic Party, social democrats, Stefan Wallin, Svenska folkpartiet, Swedish language, Swedish Peoples Party, Tarja Halonen | 9 comments
Presidential Election 2012
Sauli Niinistö is one of Finland’s most popular politicians, arguably its most popular. Ever since his only narrow defeat against the incumbent president Tarja Halonen in the second round of the last presidential election, an election in which many predicted Halonen’s massive popularity would allow her to walk to victory already in the first round, Niinistö has been considered a dead-certain to win the post in 2012. And indeed, in the parliamentary election of 2007 Niinistö received the highest number of votes ever by a candidate and went on to be speaker of the last parliament.
Niinistö did not stand for re-election to parliament in this year’s election but, as expected, confirmed he would stand as a candidate for president a few weeks ago. Opinion polls show he continues to be massively popular. But, we should not take his victory for granted yet. The post of President of the Republic is not a job appointed by declaration. The people must vote. Indeed, as mentioned, Tarja Halonen was expected to be reelected easily in the 2006 election but had to fight a late surge by Niinistö. In 1994, Elisabeth Rehn was expected to win over Martti Ahtisaari with a relatively comfortable margin, but went on to lose by around 7 percentage points.
The former Social Democratic prime minister Paavo Lipponen has now announced that he wishes to be the SDP’s candidate in next year’s presidential poll. According to an opinion poll today, Niinistö would easily beat Lipponen in a run-off between the two: Niinistö would win 63% of the vote. But, it is early days. A lot can happen during the autumn and winter. Will the financial crisis get worse and cause people to shy away from the right? Will Niinistö come across as arrogant, almost expecting to become president without the need to win the people’s trust in the election. Lipponen is a formidable opponent. A true statesman and capable debater, although perhaps now rather old at 70 years old.
The Swedish vote in 2012
For Swedish-speakers, Lipponen is very much worth considering when choosing how to vote. Lipponen is an extremely strong supporter of Finland’s bilingualism. Indeed, he launched his bid for the SDP candidacy with a press conference that was very much bilingual in nature, something increasingly rare for Finnish-speaking politicians in Finland. Lipponen has on several occasions spoken out against the hardening attitude against Swedish in the media during the past few years. He has also acted as chairman for the Svenska Nu project, which aims to improve the status of Swedish as a school subject in Finnish-speaking schools. Lipponen’s Swedish is as near to perfect as it can be for a non-native speaker.
Lipponen’s candidacy would perhaps present a problem for the Swedish People’s Party (SFP). Many SFP voters would likely see Lipponen as a strong supporter for Swedish interests. Would it not be a good idea for SFP to back his election – a candidate with a chance of getting elected? On the other hand, SFP has many non-socialist supporters and, especially in the highly bilingual capital area, Niinistö’s popularity may be so strong as to cross the language divide. So, should SFP have its own candidate? And if so, whom? Well, as we’ve seen, if SFP selects the right person, it can do well. Elisabeth Rehn came close to taking the presidency in 1994. In an election campaign that is likely to be dominated by two men, party leader Stefan Wallin has said he would like SFP to select a woman. Eva Biaudet stands out as the obvious candidate. Biaudet is currently Finland’s minorities ombudsman. She has spoken out against the increasingly intolerant atmosphere in Finnish society towards minority groups, especially in the wake of the rise of the populist True Finns. She could prove to be a strong candidate appealing to liberal voters of both language groups. But, would more socially conservative SFP supporters in rural Österbotten really be prepared to back a liberal candidate from Helsingfors/Helsinki? And should SFP really be cannibalising votes for strongly pro-Swedish Lipponen? The party has a tough choice ahead of it – but is aiming to make it within the next two weeks.
Pictured, the Presidential palace by the market square in the capital. This is the president’s office and the place where official guests are usually received, although today the president no longer lives there.
Thursday 12.5.11 in Centre party, Finland, Green party, Politics, SDP, SFP, Svenskfinland, True Finns | Tags: Finland, Finnish election, Finnish politics, government, government negotiations, Jyrki Katainen, Kokoomus, National Coalition, opposition, Parliamentary election 2011, Pertti Veltto Virtanen, Politics, SDP, SFP, social democrats, Swedish Peoples Party, Timo Soini, True Finns | 5 comments
The happy news has just reached me that the True Finns have decided to enter opposition. The leader of the populist party, which is strongly anti-immigration and anti-Swedish, Timo Soini annouced at a press conference this morning that his party could not join a government together with the National Coalition Kokoomus party and the Social Democrats due to their agreement on taking part in EU economic support to Portugal.
The leader of the largest party after 17 April’s election, Kokoomus leader Jyrki Katainen, is now free to negotiate with other parties on forming a government. The Centre party, which performed extremely badly in the election have repeatedly said they will sit in opposition – this is unlikely to change. Katainen will thus need to look to a relatively large number of parties if he is to form a stable government. Kokoomus and SDP look to be certain. The Greens have also signalled that they agree with the Kokoomus-SDP agreement on Portugal, so they may well feature. It seems also likely the the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) will stay in government. Katainen is likely to wish to see SFP in government as the two parties hold similar views on many economic policies; a useful counterweight to the centre-left SDP. The prominent True Finn member of parliament Pertti “Veltto” Virtanen had previously told the media that he will “vomit for 5 days straight” if SFP sits in the next government. He should probably be thinking about stocking up on cleaning equipment.
It remains to be seen whether a strong government can be formed of so many parties from different ideological backgrounds, but it has been done before in this country. It also remains to be seen whether the once dominant Centre party, if in opposition, will be overshadowed there by the True Finns. And how will the True Finns perform as an opposition party? Many had suggested that if they’d entered government, they’d soon lose popularity – they’d actually have to take responsibility and make decisions and their populist programme would have been exposed as unworkable. That might have been the kiss of death for them in the next election. Now they may well be able to benefit from being able to continue their populism in the form of a critique of a new government that is likely going to need to make unpopular decisions due to the global economic situation. Sadly, we probably haven’t seen the end of Soini’s gang just yet.
Monday 26.10.09 in Centre party, Finland, National coalition party, Politics, SDP, SFP, Svenskfinland, Swedish language | Tags: Anna-Maja Henriksson, bilingualism, Centre party, Esko Aho, Finland, Finland-Swedes, Folktinget, FSD, Helsingin Sanomat, Hesari, HS, Jacob Söderman, Jutta Urpilainen, Jyrki Katainen, Kokoomus, language rights, Mari Kiviniemi, Martti Ahtisaari, Matti Vanhanen, Minority rights, National coalition party, Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Paavo Lipponen, Politics, RKP, SDP, SFP, social democrats, Svenska folkpartiet, Swedish, Swedish language, Swedish Peoples Party, Ulla-Maj Wideroos | 2 comments
Reactions to Sunday’s Helsingin Sanomat editorial
The Social Democrat parliament member Jacob Söderman has said that yesterday’s Helsingin Sanomat (HS) editorial is a warning that things are going very wrong for Swedish-speakers’ rights.
HS wrote yesterday that Swedish-speaking Finns’ concerns over their diminishing rights were justified. See previous blog entry for more details.
Söderman named the Centre party as the biggest villain behind recent decisions that have effectively reduced the ability to receive services in Swedish. Municipalities / Local Government Minister Mari Kiviniemi (Centre) received particular criticism for her attempt to ignore the concerns of both Parliament’s Consitutional Committee and the Chancellor of Justice with regard to assigning bilingual Karleby (Kokkola) to the unilingual Oulu state administrative district instead of the strongly bilingual Vasa. Both the Constitutional Committee and Chancellor of Justice has ordered that Kiviniemi arrange a report that compares the two options with regard to the linguistic consequences of such a move. Kiviniemi has tried to instead order a report that would only investigate the linguistic provisions that Oulu would be capable of providing.
The Swedish People’s Party (SFP) parliament member Ulla-Maj Wideroos has claimed in the light of HS’ editorial that “it is obvious that there is a hidden agenda concerning the Swedish language. The Centre party’s next step will be to adjust the parliamentary electoral districts to ensure that the influence of Swedish-speaking Finns is reduced.”
Wideroos also claims that the National Coaltion party (Kokoomus) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) bear some of the responsibility for the current language climate, “Centre receives the power that the other two main parties give them”.
Söderman (SDP) states that in his judgement the Centre party has closed its ears to the requirements of Swedish-speakers.
The chair of of the Swedish assembly of Finland, Folktinget, Anna-Maja Henriksson (SFP) also points to Centre, but also others, “Centre has displayed a spectacularly nonchalant attitude for Swedish in the matter of Karleby, but Kokoomus have also helped them. With regard to the police district reform, the minister responsible was from Kokoomus.”
Wideroos (SFP) regrets the fact that there are today so few, if any, strong advocates of bilingualism amongst Finnish-speaking politician. She mentions former prime minister Esko Aho (Centre), former prime minister and parliament speaker Paavo Lipponen (SDP), former president and Nobel peace prize winner Martti Ahtisaari (SDP) and former minister Olli-Pekka Heinonen (Kokoomus) as politicians previously active who understood the importance of bilingualism and acted to further it.
Wideroos welcomed the fact that HS has now acted in defence of bilingualism. “This is exactly what we need. Finally, the country’s largest newspaper has said precisely what we have thought for a long time. This is of great importance, this will certainly be read by prime minister Vanhanen (Centre), opposition leader Urpilainen (SDP) and finance minister and party leader Katainen (Kokoomus).
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) has denied that there is any reason for concern over Swedish-speakers’ rights. He told reporters from the Finnish News Agency FNB/STT that he had not had time to acquaint himself with the Helsingin Sanomat’s editorial but that “we are one people with two languages and both languages ought to be equal.”
“Ought” to be, Matti? Actually, I think you will find it is “must be”. Time to take out the law books and read the constitution.
For more on our prime minister’s difficulties in understanding reality, read this entry on the Jees Helsinki Jees blog: Vanhanen to Swedish-speaking minority: “Your grievance against the Finnish mainstream isn’t justified” « Jees Helsinki Jees
Ahtisaari encourages usage of Swedish, says Swedish lessons should start earlier in Finnish-speaking schools
Wednesday 30.9.09 in Finland, SDP, Swedish language | Tags: Ahtisaari, debate, education, Finland, identity, Language, language education, Martti Ahtisaari, Norden, Nordic, president, School, social democrats, Swedish, Swedish language | 3 comments
Former Social Democrat, President and 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari has encouraged all Swedish-speaking Finns to use Swedish as much as possible in their contact with Finnish speakers, reports the (Finnish) Swedish Press Service news agency in Borgåbladet.
Ahtisaari’s comments come a day after he wrote a debate article in the capital’s main Finnish- and Swedish-language newspapers, Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet, calling for the strength of Swedish to be strengthened. Ahtisaari was critical to recent developments which have weakened the status of Swedish in Finland and towards the decrease in functional bilingualism amongst Finnish-speaking Finns. Ahtisaari underlined the importance of knowledge of Swedish as an anchor for Finland’s Nordic identity. The former president proposed that Finnish-speaking students should start Swedish classes earlier in their school career, saying that starting during puberty in their seventh year of school as they do today was not a good thing for their attitude towards the language. Ahtisaari believes Swedish lessons should start at the primary level of education.
It is notable that Social Democrats can be perhaps be said to be amongst the most prepared to stand up for Swedish amongst Finnish-speaking politicians. Current President of the Republic Tarja Halonen has also spoken out in favour of Swedish. Former Prime Minister and Parliament speaker Paavo Lipponen also has actively promoted Swedish teaching through his involvement in the organisation Svenska Nu. Perhaps Finland’s Swedish-speakers would be better off with a government involving the SDP rather than Matti Vanhanen’s Centre party, who seem intent in breaking down Swedish structures wherever they can.