The co-founder and former leader of the Finns Party, Timo Soini, spoke to the media for the first time in seven months as an author, at an event launching his book on populism.
Soini had taken a step back from public life after announcing before last April’s parliamentary elections that he would not be standing for office. This followed an acrimonious split in 2017 within the populist party he co-founded and led for over 20 years, with Jussi Halla-aho becoming party chair.
"I live my own life and the Finns Party live theirs," Soini told reporters on Monday when asked about his current relationship with his former party, and added that "the party now is different, but I created a party so good that Halla-aho can manage it."
Soini and a few others founded the Finns Party (then called the True Finns) from the embers of the Finnish Rural Party in 1995, and led them from relative obscurity to become the country's third-largest party at the 2011 parliamentary elections.
This success was followed by the party becoming Finland’s second biggest at the 2015 elections, and entering into government with the Centre Party and the conservative National Coalition Party - with Soini as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs.
"Not my place" to judge Halla-aho
Despite the split in 2017, the Finns Party - led by Halla-aho - were once again the second largest party in parliamentary elections in 2019, and are currently the most popular party in Finland based on the latest voter polls.
However, at the press conference on Monday, Soini would not be drawn into commenting on the performance of his successor.
"I don’t think it is my place to judge him. I don't support him any more than I am against him," Soini said, adding that he was not going to answer any questions about what "Jussi should do".
The former deputy premier was however willing to answer questions about the current Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her five-party coalition government, stating that he believes the current government is "inferior" to the previous administration led by Juha Sipilä, of which Soini himself was a member.
"I do not like the present government and I do not like the people [in it]," Soini said.
Immigration "not the number one issue"
In his book, 'Populism', Soini writes about how the Finns Party has benefited from the ongoing political debate around immigration, while other parties have got "lost" in the issue.
"It [immigration] has brought the Finns Party into the political mainstream, even to the extent that immigration is the party's main theme," Soini wrote.
However, he denies that anti-immigration rhetoric was ever his top political focus.
"Immigration was not the number one issue for my populism. It's because of my background and my Catholic faith, just like my idea of abortion," Soini added.
An English-language version of Soini's book is reportedly in the works.