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Presidential Election 2012
The Ombudsman for Minorities Eva Biaudet has been unveiled as the Swedish People’s Party’s candidate in next January’s presidential elections. Biaudet must receive the endorsement of the party’s conference meeting in October, but this is thought to be a mere formality. She announced her candidacy yesterday at a press conference alongside former SFP presidential candidate Elisabeth Rehn, who made it through to the second round against eventual victor Martti Ahtisaari in the 1994 presidential race. SFP’s previous leaders and other prominent figures from the party were also alongside Biaudet, showing that she has widespread support at least amongst the party’s top. She had been widely tipped as being SFP’s candidate for some time in the media.
Before being minorities ombudsman, Biaudet worked at the OSCE in Vienna on issues surrounding human trafficking. She has previously been a government minister and parliament member in Finland.
Biaudet could prove to reach out across the language divide and pick up Finnish-speaking votes. Whilst I can’t see her repeating the success of Rehn in 1994, she is a liberal figure that may prove popular amongst those disappointed with the current harder debate climate on matters such as immigration bought about largely because of the recent rise of the True Finns party in national politics. She is also looking likely to be the only woman amongst a field of otherwise ageing men in grey suits. She is also untainted by recent national political involvement which could prove to be an advantage, she also has international experience. I personally think that Biaudet is a great candidate in this election. Someone who would provide Finland with a respectable figurehead internationally at this time when our reputation has become somewhat tainted by the populist wave experienced during our parliamentary elections. It is also important that SFP has a candidate in the election. Even if there is little chance of an SFP candidate getting to the second round or elected, the election provides many forums to debate political issues, even those not directly related to the president’s limited powers. SFP needs to be there debating these issues otherwise it risks becoming invisible to the electorate. With a candidate in the election, SFP can now be sure to be able to take part in the coming debates in the run up to the January election.
And let’s not forget, a lot can happen during this autumn and winter. No one would have predicted that Elisabeth Rehn would have made the second round in 1994 at this stage of the campaign. So, let’s not rule anything out just yet.
Pictured: Eva Biaudet (left) and Elisabeth Rehn (right)
Government formation negotiations, Wednesday evening update
The Social Democrats and the Left Alliance have walked out of negotiations to form a new government, following 17 April’s parliamentary elections. According to Yle, the two parties could not agree with the others on economic policy matters. The moderate conservative Kokoomus party is leading discussions as the largest party. Kokoomus party chairman Jyki Katainen has said he will contact the Centre party already today to see if they are interested in joining negotiations with the remaining parties at the table, Katainen hopes now to form a non-socialist government comprising of his own Kokoomus, Centre, the Swedish People’s Party, and the Christian Democrats.
The Centre Party has previously made it very clear that it would sit in opposition during this parliament after it received a drubbing in the April elections. It remains to be seen as to whether Centre will do a U-turn and say yes to entering government (or at least the negotiations to form one).
Another risk is that the second place Social Democrats try to take the lead in forming a government. Some SDP voices have previously noted that they regretted that the True Finns were not going to sit in the coming government. SDP and True Finns share many similarities in economic policy, an area that will dominate this parliamentary term due to the global economic situation. It’s unlikely, but could the worst case scenario involve Timo Soini’s True Finns sitting in the next Finnish government after all?
A few diverse thoughts on the election campaign as it goes into its final week.
Astrid Thors has a sense of humour
Being the government minister responsible for immigration can’t be an easy job in a time when populists are on the rise. Migration Minister Astrid Thors of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has faced a tough time in the media and often hateful threats against her from hardline anti-immigration campaigners. Indeed, due to this she requires a body guard when out in public. But an article in yesterday’s Hufvudstadsbladet shows that Thors has not lost her sense of humour during this often tough four year parliamentary term. On Friday, as she campaigned for votes at SFP’s election hut next to Stockmann in central Helsingfors/Helsinki, she wore a flowery hat, mocking the Finnish language’s nickname of “flower-hatted aunt” referring to persons who are pro-immigration.
Whilst Hufvudstadsbladet‘s reporter was at the scene, one man did walk by Thors and shouted aggressively, “Kick out the niggers from Finland!” Straight after this, one of the few candidates with an immigrant background from the national Coalition party Kokoomus, Fatbardhe Hetemaj, approached Thors from Kokoomus’ neighbouring election hut to admire her hat. At the same time, Kokoomus parliament member for Helsinki Ben Zyskowicz stood with an election brochure and attempted to hand it to an older lady with her grandchildren, to which the elder lady replied in Swedish, “I am not voting for you and I vote in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district anyway”. To which Zyskowicz replied that she should then vote for Alexander Stubb, Finland’s foreign minister who is standing as a Kokoomus candidate in Nyland. The elderly lady instead determinedly approached Astrid Thors.
Indeed, it can’t be easy to be an immigrant or Swedish-speaking candidate or supporter for Kokoomus. The party contains elements that are extremely hostile to both. The party’s youth wing has voted for scrapping the Swedish-language as a part of the compulsory school curriculum in Finnish schools. Whilst the youth wing’s chairman Wille Rydman, who is a candidate in the parliamentary election in Helsinki, has expressed anti-immigrant views that can be considered on a par with the populist True Finns. He has in the past even expressed support for the views of the hardline racist candidate of the True Finns Jussi Hallo-aho. Swedish-speakers and immigrants considering voting for Kokoomus candidates such as Stubb should be aware who else might benefit from their vote.
As for Astrid Thors, her strongest challenge in this election probably comes from Jörn Donner. The veteran politician, author, film director and journalist is also standing as an SFP candidate in the capital. SFP strategists hope that Donner could attract a large enough number of votes to ensure that party would win two mandates in Helsinki. This however seems unlikely, and if Donner were too win more votes than Thors, he could knock her out of parliament.
True Finns – Sann’finländarna’
Saturday was a flag day in honour of the Finnish language. The Finnish flag flew outside our house as it did from the flag poles of our neighbours, who are predominantly also Swedish-speaking Finns due to the area in which I live. We are one nation with two languages and it is right that we mark this fact. Yet, it made me think, I wonder how many True Finns supporters and candidates fly the Finnish flag on the 6 November each year, a flag day marking the Swedish language and culture in Finland. It made me wonder whether we should really be translating Perussuomalaiset to Sannfinländarna in Swedish. This will make little sense to the English-speaker, so allow me to explain. The Swedish-language, unlike English and for the most part Finnish, makes a distinction between finne and finländare. Both would be translated as ‘Finn’ in English, whereas in Swedish the former refers to a Finnish-speaking Finn and the latter to any Finn regardless of language group. Finlandssvensk refers to a Swedish-speaking Finn. The translation “Sannfinländarna” thus means “[the] True Finns” in the sense of all Finns regardless of language group. Yet, the party is clearly against anyone who is not a Finnish-speaking non-immigrant. It doesn’t like immigrants or Swedish-speakers. It might be more accurate to translate its name as Sannfinnarna in future. Let’s not pretend it is an inclusive party.
Voters disenfranchised in Berlin
One of the perhaps most troubling stories in the last couple of days was reported by Radio Vega’s Aktuellt news bulletin this morning. Yesterday was the last day for Finnish citizens living abroad to cast their vote at Finland’s diplomatic posts. However, this was made impossible for around 30 persons trying to vote at the Finnish embassy in Berlin. The embassy ran out of ballot papers thus effectively disenfranchising those effected unless they happen to be able to travel to Finland to vote here. Aktuellt‘s reporter in Berlin spoke with an official from the Berlin embassy who noted that they had noticed that they were low on ballot papers earlier in the week and had ordered 150 more from the consulates in Hamburg and Stuttgart. However, when the reporter asked why it wasn’t possible to order more from Finland when there are several flights a day between the Finnish and German capitals, the official was dumbstruck and could not supply an answer. Let’s hope that this serious break-down in the mechanics of democracy is an isolated incident.
Advanced voting for this year’s Parliamentary Election began across the country this morning and continues for a week. Around 40 per cent of the electorate usually vote in advance of election day itself, which this year is on 17 April. Both of the morning newspapers we subscribe to gave a hint of this news this morning with both Hufvudstadsbladet and Borgåbladet carrying full front page advertisements from the Swedish People’s Party (SFP). In our house, we have always had the tradition of voting on the actual voting day in our polling station, which is the local school, only ten minutes walk from where we live. And that is no doubt how we shall vote this year as well.
This year, more than ever, it’s important that everyone votes! In recent years, Finland has had very poor turnouts compared to our Nordic neighbours (e.g. over 84% of Swedes turned out in their election in September 2010, only 67,8% of Finns voted in he last parliamentary election in 2007). The threat of the populist anti-Swedish and anti-foreigner True Finns party winning a high proportion of the vote should ensure that more people vote this time. Not to mention the fact that the polls showing their level of support being comparable to the ‘big three’ parties in Finnish politics makes this year’s election more interesting, even if for a rather less than desirable reason. It may be so that low turnout in recent elections was partly down to the perceived inability of the voter to effect much change in a Parliament dominated by three almost equally sized parties (Centre, the conservative coalition Kokoomus party, and the Social Democrats). Swedish-speaking Finns, who always turn out in disproportionately high numbers compared to the population as a whole, have an extra reason to make their voice heard in this year’s poll – the status of Swedish has been discussed more vocally in this campaign than perhaps before the 1940s.
I haven’t had time to blog much lately, but as the election campaign enters its final phase, I will try and provide at least a few updates. On results night, I will hopefully provide a live blog as I did with the European Parliament Elections of 2009.
The Swedish People’s Party (Svenska folkpartiet in Swedish, or SFP for short) is to ponder its own name in upcoming discussions on renewal as part of the ongoing Kasnäs manifesto process.
The aim of the Kasnäs process is to give SFP a clearer, more definable image and to place it on track to win 10% of votes in national elections. Much of the debate has centred on more clearly presenting the party as Finland’s principle party of liberal values. There is currently no party in parliament that defines itself as principally liberal. SFP’s European parliament member Carl Haglund is leading the Kasnäs process and has suggested that the word ‘liberal’ is somehow incorporated in the party’s name.
According to media reports, uggestions for a new name have included ‘Svenska folkpartiet – Liberalerna‘ (The Swedish People’s Party – The Liberals), ‘Svenska liberala folkpartiet’ (The Swedish Liberal People’s Party), ‘Folkpartiet Liberalerna‘ (The People’s Party – The Liberals), ‘Finlands svenska folkparti’ (Finland’s Swedish People’s Party), or simply ‘Folkpartiet’ (The People’s Party).
Any move away from a name including Swedish would be controversial and potentially dangerous. In seeking out a new source of voters in the form of liberal Finnish-speaking Finns, the party may well alienate its core bloc of voters – Swedish speakers. I feel it is extremely optimistic for those in the party advocating a change to hope that they can both appeal to liberals regardless of language group and maintain the current level of support amongst Swedish-speakers simultaneously.
SFP has always, by necessity, been a broad church, even if the liberal-wing has perhaps had the largest following. Swedish-speaking Finns are by no means a homogenous group. Just as amongst Finnish-speakers, there are farmers, town dwellers, factory workers, bank-owners, entrepreneurs and everything else in between. Certainly not all of these are traditional liberals. However, they do all share the common requirement to have a voice in the Finnish politics that speaks up for the rights of the Swedish language and those that wish to live through it. Emphasising one political ideology as more important than the party’s Swedish nature is not the way to electoral success.
That said, SFP does face a real challenge. Increasingly, Swedish-speaking Finns are more and more bilingual in the way they live their lives. For many in the larger towns of southern Finland, the Swedish-speaking part of their identity is less and less a defining point – or, at least not as important as it was for previous generations. They can get by perfectly well in Finnish, their partner is quite probably Finnish-speaking and thus other political issues than language can more easily sway this new group’s voting intention. In addition to that, the coming voting form (of questionable democratic credentials) will make it harder in the future for SFP to gain parliamentary representation. We Swedish-speakers are finally not decreasing in numbers, but we continue to decline as a percentile proportion of the entire national population (and thus as an electoral force). In such a climate, it is understandable and possibly crucial that SFP reaches out to win more Finnish-speaking votes. The sad reality is that the party may be before too long, as the Americans say, be between a rock and a hard place.
The Kasnäs manifesto, the basis of the Kasnäs process which is looking into how best to redefine SFP for the future, can be read in English on SFP’s website by following this link.
SFP Party Conference 2009 in Helsingfors
The Swedish People’s Party (SFP) held its party conference at Arcada in Helsingfors this weekend.
The issues that have been most picked up in the media can all be said to be encompassed as equality related:
- Leader Stefan Wallin condemned the True Finns fishing for votes in the undercurrent of racist attitudes its campaign for the EU parliamentary elections in June. SFP can be said to have one of the least hostile policies on immigration of the Finnish political parties.
- SFP voted to propose that women also be included in military service, to a far greater degree than today.
- Most controversially, SFP voted to support adoption rights for same-sex couples (of any children put up for adoption, not just the children on one of the partners as Finnish law has just been changed to allow). The party voted 108-83 in favour of this motion.
Whilst SFP’s position on all of these issues can be said to be steps in the right direction for equality and liberal thought, the pragmatist can put them into question by wondering to what degree they go along with what should be the party’s key aim: the winning of votes. After all, if SFP does not ensure support at elections, it won’t be in a position to speak out for liberal values to any extent at all. SFP must be careful not to forget its principal raison d’etre: the defence and safeguarding of the position of the Swedish-language in Finnish society. To be able to do this, it needs to unite the Swedish speaking electorate. They also form the party’s core voting bloc; risking alienating or splitting them is dangerous for the party’s future. Yet, some of these decisions, perhaps especially that on same-sex adoption risk just that. There is a serious risk that this decision will alienate a not insignificant core of conservative SFP supporters, particularly in Österbotten, an area where so-called ‘traditional’ religious values are still strong. Whilst I, and many in the liberal wing may support these recent policy decisions, they may run the risk of undermining the more important task of the party, safeguarding Swedish. Certainly, SFP may pick up extra votes from the other language group, for instance from Finnish-speakers appalled at the racism of the True Finns and seeing SFP as the only party to truly condemn them. But will these be enough to replace those votes lost from the party’s key electorate? I doubt it. And even if they are, they are unlikely to come from people who give as much importance to the protection of Swedish.
Time will tell. But I fear that in the current political climate, where Swedish is under threat more than at any point in the last twenty years, SFP can not afford to alienate its core supporters. It is time for the party to unite and concentrate on its key mission. I hope that’s the conclusion that this autumn’s special extraordinary conference will come to. It was announced this weekend as being a chance for SFP’s grassroots to involve themselves to an unprecedented degree in the party’s policy-making. A chance to shape the direction of the party for the next few years.
Member of the European Parliament Henrik Lax believes that Finnish politicians are understating the threat that Russia presents. He told yesterday’s meeting of the Swedish People’s Party (Sfp) board that the Georgia-crisis gives serious reasons for Finland to review its position towards Russia.
Lax told the Sfp meeting that people ought to clearly realise that Russia is pursuing a policy of confrontation and not cooperation.
He was critical of the government’s reaction to the turn of events and seemed to also direct criticism at the president of the republic, Tarja Halonen. Lax stated that we should not be putting the Estonians’ conclusions on the events in Georgia into a psychological context. According to Lax, “they have a much more realistic understanding of Russia that we do”. In recent days, Halonen has come under heavy criticism from especially the Estonian media after it had appeared she suggested that Estonia was still suffering from a kind of post-Soviet stress.
Lax said that Finland’s position was in danger of being so naive and uncritical that “we should not be surprised if the word ‘finlandisation’ turns up again [to describe the Finnish position] – both at home and abroad”
Henrik Lax has long taken an interest in Russian affairs, being critical in the past of the Nord Stream gas pipeline project under the Baltic sea – particularly the Nord Stream company’s lack of openness. He will retire from the European parliament at the next election to it.