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Finns Party splinters, new group makes bid for Sipilä government

Following its exit from Juha Sipilä’s government, the Finns Party’s parliamentary group has collapsed, with a band of 20-odd MPs forming a new group to be known as the "New Alternative". Chair of the new group Simon Elo said the move was not just about the election of anti-immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho as Finns Party chair, but about elements that had taken over the party.

Former Finns Party parliamentary group chair Sampo Terho (centre) is among high-profile MPs to defect to the new party, the "New Alternative. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

Reeling after its departure from government, the Finns Party has splintered, with a group of 20 or so MPs leaving to establish a new political force known as the "New Alternative".

Former party chair and Foreign Minister Timo Soini is among the members of the new faction. He is joined by other high profile MPs such as parliamentary group leader Sampo Terho, Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö and Health Minister Pirkko Mattila, as well as Parliamentary Speaker Maria Lohela.

The announcement was made by MP Simon Elo before a meeting of the Finns Party’s parliamentary group meeting Tuesday afternoon.

"The group is ready to continue as part of the Sipilä government with the same government programme and constitution," Elo said.

Elo acted as the spokesperson during the hastily-arranged press conference and will also act as chair of the new group, with MP Tiina Elovaara serving as vice chair.

"Today we are not just politicians but also acting on behalf of our country. This is not just about Jussi Halla-aho’s election, but about those elements that have taken over the party," Elo remarked, adding that the decision to break off from the Finns Party had been surprisingly easy.

New group ready for government

Former Labour Minister said he was forced to admit with a heavy heart that the Finns Party was not the party he originally joined.

"When I went to Jyväskylä, I still had a political home. On Saturday, it was no longer there for me," Lindström said, referring to last Saturday’s election of anti-immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho.

According to Elo the parliamentary group is ready to enter into government formation talks. Asked whether PM Sipilä knew of the splinter group, Elo responded,

"The Prime Minister is hearing about this now, at least."

Former Finns Party chair Timo Soini said that he was a rank and file member of the new group. He joined his colleagues in lamenting that the Finns Party is no longer the same. Before the party convention on Saturday, he wrote on his website that the idea of defecting to another party was unthinkable.

The new political force is not eligible for the taxpayer-funded financial support that political parties in Finland receive. Soini himself shepherded the legislative amendment through Parliament a few years ago.

"We won’t get the money, but we’ll maintain our backbones," Elo responded cryptically to a question about the loss of funding.

Shift in Parliamentary balance of power

The creation of a new group of MPs will recalibrate the balance of power in the Parliament. It will essentially take the wind out of the sails of Halla-aho’s Finns Party in opposition.

It could also throw a spanner in the works for the Swedish People’s Party and the Christian Democrats, who have both signalled a readiness to join a Juha Sipilä-led government — on condition that the senior coalition parties agree to reformulate the government agenda.

If Sipilä decides to renegotiate a government coalition with the New Alternative and Petteri Orpo’s National Coalition Party, he will have 107 of 200 seats in the Parliament. This would be more than the 101 seats he’d end up with if he took on the SPP and Christian Democrats as coalition partners.

The distribution of seats would be as follows:

Centre parliamentary group: 49 MPs

National Coalition: 37 MPs

Social Democratic Party: 35 MPs

New Alternative: 21 MPs

Finns Party: 15 MPs

Greens: 15 MPs

Left Alliance: 12 MPs

Swedish People’s Party: 10 MPs

Christian Democratic Party: 5 MPs

Edit: Updated at 2.55pm to include comments from Jari Lindström and Timo Soini.

Edit: Updated at 3.10pm to include revised information about parliamentary groups.

Edit: Updated 14.6.2017 at 10.31 am to include number of Greens MPs.