Finnish parliamentary elections: Right wing liberals and the far right joined in austerity & anti-immigration politics

International headlines about the new Finnish government

Here we offer a brief overview of the Finnish parliamentary elections & its results, the new government and their programme as well as what kind of struggles are to be expected in the coming years. While the previous Social Democrat-led government under Sanna Marin were seen in the media as a very modern one with five women party leaders in charge, the current one has given Finland negative headlines at home and abroad. Although the new government was only formed in June they have already sparked international outrage, and we want to give comrades abroad some context and a quick summary in English.

A hard turn to the right

In the middle of multiple crisis (the war in Ukraine, inflation and price increases, the continuing decline of the welfare state), Finland held its’ parliamentary elections this spring. The elections and the discussion leading up to it were framed around who would be the new prime minister and what economic direction the country should take: continue on the Social Democrat-lead line or change course towards the right and austerity. 

The elections were held on April 2nd, 2023 with clear results: the previous government lost, with Left Alliance, the Green League and Centre Party losing parliamentary seats in the election. Only the Social Democrats increased their seats. The opposition parties, Kokoomus (National Coalition), Perussuomalaiset (The Finns) and Kristillisdemokraatit (Christian Democrats) in turn increased their seats in the parliament. 

The elections mark a clear shift towards the right (and reactionary direction): the biggest party is National Coalition, second biggest being the Finns. The National Coalition with chairman Petteri Orpo represent right wing free-market economic policy, with varying stances on social issues (from conservative and reactionary to more liberal), the Finns are a tried-and-true far right party. They have also embraced a right-wing economic platform in the last 5 years. These two parties make up the core of the new Finnish government.

The most right wing government in Finland, party leaders from left to right: Anna-Maija Henriksson (Swedish People’s Party), Petteri Orpo (National Coalition), Riikka Purra (the Finns) and Sari Essayah (Christian Democratic Party)

Most right-wing government in history

The current government was formed in June and it consists of a coalition of four right-wing parties: National Coalition, the  Finns, Swedish People’s Party of Finland  and Christian Democratic Party. The government programme, as expected, consists of austerity politics, cuts to welfare and social security, weakening of labour laws and xenophobic stances on immigration.  Some of these include: Accepting fewer refugees by lowering the quota as set by the government and increasing the minimum earning requirements for immigrants applying for a working visa. Tougher sentencing for crimes, more police and more funding & extended rights for police. The new government wants to limit rights to strike, introduce a personal fine for “illegal strikes”, make firing employees easier and loosen regulations on temporary employment contracts. The new government also suggests that the employer wouldn´t have to pay for the first day of sick leave, among other cuts to the benefits that were built by the Nordic welfare states during the 20th century.

Vilhelm Junnila (appointed minister of economic affairs and employment, resigned after 11 days) speaking at a fascist demonstration in Turku in 2019

The government had been officially in power for just over a week as the first crisis hit: the newly appointed minister of economic affairs and employment Vilhem Junnila resigned after his ties to neo-nazis and other far right groups, as well as his jokes invoking nazi symbolism, resurfaced.

Notably, this only become major news in the Finnish media after multiple international outlets published articles critical of the new government and the Finns party’s ties to far right groups and believes.

Other ministers and representatives of the Finns are, as of writing, under scrutiny for their past conspiracy theory-related and racist statements. Junnila’s successor Wille Rydman has his own controversial past – after a 2022 police investigation into him grooming and sexually harassing under-age girls, he left the National Coalition to join the Finns party. In July 2023, his former partner also released his messages visiting and praising Third Reich monuments in Germany and joking that “Nazis like me don´t really like Jew stuff”. It remains to see how funny foreign diplomats will find this, and what the international community will think of a government that can´t appoint ministers with clean backgrounds.

Newly appointed minister of economic affairs, Wille Rydman (previously National Coalition, currently the Finns)

While denouncing their ties to any such theories and groups in public (only after pressure from the public and media), the Finns use and have used dog-whistles consistently to gain support within the far right and among fascists. We have published several articles (also in English) about the close relationship between the Finns party (Perussuomalaiset) and other far-right movements.

Furthermore, the new government appointed former Finns party chairman Jussi Halla-aho as chairman of parliament, a position traditionally given to a politician respected across party lines. Halla-aho is infamous for writing the Scripta blog and starting the online Hommaforum in the early 00`s, where he published fascist, homophobic, anti-feminist essays and gathered the emerging Finnish far-right around him. He also joined the oldest Finnish fascist organization Suomen Sisu already in the year 2000. Halla-aho made some headlines in 2011, when it appeared that Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik quoted him in his manifesto. Halla-aho considered the holocaust to be “exaggerated” by Jews in light of other ethnic cleansings, and wished that liberal politician Eva Biaudet (Swedish People´s Party) should be raped by immigrants as punishment for being pro-immigration. Biaudet is still a member of parliament, and now has to sit side-by-side in the government with Halla-aho.

Speaker of the House, Jussi Halla-aho is know for a long history of racist & violent writings on his blog. When elected leader in 2017, the Finns evolved into a fully fledged far right party.

The latest development mid-July put the spotlight on Finns party leader and newly appointed Minister of Finance Riikka Purra. From the comment sections of Halla-aho’s Scripta blog 15 years ago, comments from an account named “riikka” surfaced, who made horrendous comments about immigration. The account mentioned her age, place of residence and other personal details that all match Riikka Purra’s at that time. The account made comments about her disgust with immigrants and Muslims, and threatened that “there would be many corpses in my commuter train” if she had a gun. Riikka Purra originally denied having anything to do with the comments, but the amount of evidence forced her to apologize “for thoughtless comments I made a long time ago”, Mounting pressure from the opposition parties in parliament might put the mandate of the government in jeopardy.

Sinimusta Liike and the failure of open fascism

In addition to the Finns party, a newly founded, openly racist and fascist party Sinimusta Liike, SML (Blue and Black Movement, in reference to the Finnish fascist IKL and Lapua movements of the 1930’s) also participated in the election. The party was formed in 2021 and officially included into the party register in 2022, having gathered the necessary 5000 support signatures. This was the first election they participated in, and the result was a disaster. In total, they received 2037 (0,07%) votes nation-wide and were left without any representatives in the parliament.

Shortly after the election, the fascists of SML tried to show their force by demonstrating on May Day in Tampere, which was a clear failure: attendance was around 40-50 people and they were outnumbered one to ten by an antifascist counter-demonstration, in which more than 300 people participated. After that, the party has been off the streets and silent. 

Pictured is the fascist May Day demonstration in Tampere, 2023. SML managed to rally 40-50 people Finland-wide to their “White May Day” 

The SML was founded from the remnants of two defunct organizations – the national socialist Nordic Resistance Movement, which was banned by the Finnish Supreme Court in 2020 and the original youth wing of the Finns party, which was dissolved the same year for being “too” openly ethno-nationalist and racist. While some of the national socialists continue with underground activities, some of them decided to return to parliamentarism together with the expelled young Finns and activists from the larger far-right milieu. Party chairman Tuukka Kuru had brought international far-right speakers such as Jared Taylor and Olega Semenyaka to Finland, and with his connections across the Finnish scene he decided to try his luck in the parliamentary elections.

We have written about the connections between the neo-nazi and fascist groups and the Finns previously here.

What happens next?

It remains to be seen how a government ridden with crises, infighting, ties to neo-nazis and unpopular cuts to social security and benefits will fare. If the first weeks are any indication, there will be more scandals, internal fights and divisions. However, in order to dismantle the safety nets of the Nordic welfare state model, the National Coalition and PM Petteri Orpo are tied to the Finns party and their support. 

We expect continued pressure on the government for its’ ties to the far right and the so-called liberal parties acceptance of these ties by staying in government. The Prime Minister and the National Coalition seem willing to compromise on their “values” as long as they are able to push through their own cuts to welfare and austerity measures. Protests against the welfare cuts and immigration policies have already begun, as soon as the contents of the government negotiations and the final programme were released. Mostly the protests and critique have been against cuts to social security and the far right Finns party and their connections to right extremist groups (for example ties to the banned Nordic Resistance Movement and continued projects under other names). Labour unions have been publicly critical of the government programme, but so far no labour actions have taken place or have been announced as of yet. 

As the new government starts to actualize and push through their austerity politics as described in their programme, we will most likely see more struggles from a broader part of society. There is a need for coalition building between different organizations and movements to fight the cuts and overall misery that the right wing government offers us. We will need connections between workers, students, immigrants, the unemployed, the antifascist and extra-parliamentary left, and the environmental movement, and bring these struggles together. 

We’ll see you in the streets!