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Sipilä opts for right-leaning government

Centre Party chair Juha Sipilä announced on Thursday evening that he will begin coalition talks with the Finns Party and National Coalition Party. They aim to form a new government for economically-ailing Finland within the next three weeks.

Vasemmalta, puolueiden puheenjohtajat, kokoomuksen Alexander Stubb, perussuomalaisten Timo Soini ja keskustan Juha Sipilä hallituspohjan tiedotustilaisuudessa eduskunnan Pikkuparlamentissa Helsingissä torstaina. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

After a brief meeting with party chairs at the Little Parliament building, Prime Minister-designate Juha Sipilä said he aims to form a new non-socialist government including the three largest parties. Together they hold more than 61 percent of the seats in the new legislature.

He said there had been discussions about forming a coalition including the four largest parties, but that this turned out to be unfeasible. Instead he opted for a three-way government including the three biggest. This follows a cumbersome NCP-led cabinet that began with six parties, shedding one along the way.

Formal negotiations are to begin at 1 pm on Friday. The three parties' leaderships will meet separately over the weekend before coalition talks resume on Monday morning.

In brief comments, all three party leaders stressed that their main task will be trying to turn around Finland's dire economic situation, and that painful decisions will have to be made. According to some estimates, Finland faces a 'sustainability gap' of some 10 billion euros as its population ages and social and healthcare costs balloon.

The 3 Aces?

On a lighter note, Sipilä quipped that all three party chairs' surnames begin with the letter 'S' and punned that perhaps they could be referred to as the Three Aces, which is pronounced in Finnish the same way as the 'Three S's'. It was also the name of an Yle animated show for children about three detectives. The PM-to-be also jokingly referred to Trio S_,_ which he described as a humppa (traditional dance music) band from the northern city of Oulu.

Sipilä said he aims for a smaller cabinet, perhaps of just 12 ministers compared to 17-18 in the previous government. Soini and Stubb declined to say which portfolios they would themselves prefer. Pundits have speculated that Soini is a shoo-in for Finance while Stubb would resume his former post as Foreign Minister, which he held in 2008-11.

The Centre and NCP have taken part in dozens of cabinets during Finland's near-century of independence, while Soini's party has no government experience.

Solid majority

Social Democratic chair Antti Rinne said earlier his party would not be taking part, leaving a Centre-Finns Party-NCP triumvirate the apparent set-up. The Left Alliance, Greens, Christian Democratic and Swedish People Party leaders also confirmed to Yle that their parties would be in opposition. The latter, a small middle-of-the-road party, has been a regular fixture in the government for 36 years.

Besides the two largest blocs in Parliament, his own Centre Party and the Finns Party, Sipilä was expected to pick either outgoing premier Alexander Stubb's conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) or the Social Democrats (SDP), plus possibly one or two small parties. The SDP was the second major partner in the last government, while the Centre and Finns were the largest opposition parties.

The Centre has 49 seats in the new 200-seat legislature, followed by the Finns Party with 38 seats and the NCP with 37. The latter actually won more popular votes, but ended up with one seat fewer due to the complexities of the electoral system. Together the three would have a broad majority of 123 seats, as the Speaker of Parliament does not vote.

Tight timetable

Sipilä, whose party won April's election by a significant margin, has said he wants to form the new government before the end of May.

Last night Sipilä abandoned talks aimed at reaching a 'social contract' with Finland's labour market organisations before forming the coalition. Sipilä said that no one involved in the talks could be blamed for the failure, but now that his efforts to make a deal have folded, the new government will have to find ways to implement even more cost cuts.

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