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Party leaders at odds over merits of consensus politics

Prime Minister Alexander Stubb went on record again this Saturday in his centre-right National Coalition Party Congress address to bemoan Finland’s consensus politics, saying decisions by consensus are ineffectual. Social Democratic Party deputy chair Antti Lindtman responded to Stubb’s comments later that same evening, saying that Finland’s society is founded in the idea of consensus, and with due cause.

Alexander Stubb ja Antti Lindtman.
Prime Minister Alexander Stubb and deputy SDP chair Antti Lindtman disagree on the utility of consensus in decision-making efforts. Image: Yle

Nordic politics has long been associated with the idea of consensus politics, whereby political parties from across the right-left spectrum can respectfully work together in a coalition government to reach equitable compromises. It is widely recognized that a plus of consensus democracy is that it makes it harder for minority opinions to be ignored by vote-winning majority parties, but a minus of consensus politics is that it takes a long time to reach an agreement and hence, get anything done.

Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has been increasingly vocal of late in blaming Finland’s consensus politics for his and previous governments’ lack of progress on pressing issues. He has been joined in his criticism by several other members of his NCP party. He said on Saturday that the effort to create a larger common understanding must also be held accountable to create a viable solution, implying that this has not been the case at several junctures in the past.

As an example, Stubb points out the results of Finland’s recent pension reform negotiations, that were at first harshly rejected and then only partly successful, as one of the three top labour union confederations, The Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland, or Akava, chose not to approve the consensus solution. He accused Akava of torpedoing his NCP party’s proposal to reform apprenticeship training in the interest of safeguarding the collective bargaining system.

Political leaders were also the target of Stubb’s ire on Saturday, as he said they were guilty of making too many promises during elections.

Every coin has two sides

Deputy chair of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party Antti Lindtman refuted Prime Minister Stubb’s criticism of Finland’s consensus-seeking society Saturday evening. Lindtman says that all of Finland functions according to the principles of consensus, a proven cornerstone of democracy that is hardly ineffectual.

“The stage going into the elections is being divided more and more clearly between the centre-right NCP, which criticises consensus, and the SDP, which defends it. Stubb is looking to create a sharp division on this principle with his comments, and hopes that the SDP will take the bait. He wants to force people to come down on one side or the other,” says Lindtman.

Lindtman says the Centre Party, which is now leading in the polls, lies somewhere between the NCP and the SDP on consensus and contains vastly different opinions within its ranks on how the Finnish society should move forward. He says that in his opinion, this makes it difficult to pinpoint the Centre Party’s true position on many points.

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