The Finnish Parliamentary Elections held in April 2011 together with the formation of the government turned out to be more exciting than anyone had expected.
In recent months everyone in Finland seems to have had an opinion on politics. This is new to Finnish politics, as for a long time the number of members of political parties has been decreasing and politics has been depicted in the media mainly through personal scandals of Finnish politicians or the suspicious connections between politicians and their business sponsors in elections.
Surprising Results of April Elections
The voting turnout rose to 70.5 % and many so-called ”sleeping voters” had their say on the result. All other former parliament parties lost seats in the parliament except for the True Finns – a nationalist, populist, anti-EU, anti-immigration party. The National Coalition party still became the biggest party, followed by the Social Democrats and the True Finns. Fourth biggest was the Centre Party of Finland, fifth the Left Wing Alliance party, sixth the Greens and then the Swedish People’s Party and the Christian Democrats in Finland.
Even the Greens lost seats. We went from 15 seats to 10 (in Finnish parliament, eduskunta, there are 200 seats in total). This result was unexpected though there could be many reasons for it. One could be that the result most likely reflected the bipartition of the Finnish political scene: people wanted to show their support either for the left or for the right, and here the Greens did not sit clearly enough on either side of the political divide or the party’s message this time was unclear to voters. It can be argued that the rise of the True Finns had a positive influence on Finnish democracy: many voted in favor of this party but an even greater majority voted against their “anti-politics” and wanted to support counterforces of this party.
The Government Formation
The spokesperson of the conservative National Coalition party, Jyrki Katainen – now the Prime Minister of Finland – wanted to form a strong majority government and started negotiations with the three biggest parties: the National Coalition, Social Democrats and the True Finns. These three could not form a coalition together and the True Finns were ruled out from the negotiations. The main reason was that the party could not adapt to other parties’ (fairly) positive EU-politics, such as supporting the Portugal bail-out.
This is when the Greens were asked to join the negotiations, together with the Conservatives, Social Democrats, the Left Wing Alliance, the Liberal Swedish minority party and the minor Christian-Democratic party. After weeks of government negotiations the rainbow government which has been formed is now a combination of these six parties, which all lost seats at the election.
The Greens are known for promoting transparency and democracy, and the party not only speaks about these issues but also acts according to them. Before starting government negotiations all the party members were asked whether the party should join the negotiations or not. Members’ opinions were again taken into consideration when the final decision about joining the rainbow government was made. Both times members were positive about joining. Preconditions for the Greens entering negotiations were that the government:
- Won’t give permissions for new nuclear power plants
- Improves the state of environment and climate protection, by for example promoting the international climate agreement
- Decreases poverty and improves basic social security by, for example, increasing the level of basic welfare by a minimum of 100 euros.
These preconditions were accepted and the Greens got into government with two new ministers: The newly elected party leader Ville Niinistö serves as a new Environmental Minister and a former Member of European Parliament Heidi Hautala as a new Minister of Development and State Enterprises.
Many seemed to question whether it would be smarter to be in an opposition with only 10 seats in Parliament out of 200 or whether a small/medium party would be able to push forward its goals in the Government. The burden of the past four years in a Conservative Government was shown in the election result. Greens were sitting in a government which, for example, accepted two new nuclear power plant permissions. Many outside of the Greens felt that leaving the government would have been the only smart option. Still the Greens stayed and for many this meant the party was not acting consistently with its politics and principles. How will it be able to sit in a government that starts to reassess abortion law (one of the Christian Democrats’ preconditions for entering government) or makes massive cuts in education that is one of the corner stones of the Finnish welfare state? There might be a lot to explain during the next parliamentary election campaign in the streets. Then again, with two important ministers’ posts there are maybe more possibilities than threats concerning many fields of politics. Entering the opposition with the True Finns and the Center Party wasn’t the most pleasing option either.
The government coalition now is very different from what people thought it would be after the election result was confirmed. The new government programme “An Open, Fair and Bold Finland” offers some important possibilities for Finland to further green politics, for example, improving environmental and climate protection, fighting inequality, promoting inclusion, safeguarding the welfare state and strengthening Finnish EU-politics. There is also an opportunity to foster Green-Red co-operation together with Social Democrats and the Left Alliance. Since the elections, the Greens have started to gain new members, the party has now grown by over 55 % since April, which is more than any other party and shows that there were many who were disappointed with the result. These people wanted to show their support by joining the party that traditionally has had a relatively little amount of members compared to the amount of voters. All the new members are warmly welcomed to join the political activities and every volunteer is needed to ensure the progress of the party and to help it become even more influential in the Finnish political scene.