Laura Huhtasaari: Nativist hoping for a breakthrough

Huhtasaari, 38, shot to national prominence  in 2015 when she was elected to Parliament as a representative of the populist Finns Party.

Laura Huhtasaari. Image: Sebastian Dahlström

Since then she’s profiled herself as a nativist, conservative, anti-immigration evolution sceptic. She has been publicly complimentary about extreme rightist groups, and consistently provocative towards the more liberal mainstream of Finnish politics.

At the June 2017 Finns Party annual convention the more conservative, eurosceptic group prevailed, with Jussi Halla-aho elected to lead the party. He is well-known for his extreme right-wing views on race and ethnicity in particular, and was convicted of inciting ethnic hatred in 2012.

At that same meeting, Huhtasaari was elected the Finns Party’s first vice chair--and simultaneously raised her profile even further. What Huhtasaari may lack in political experience, she makes up for in strong views on immigration and international treaties, among others.

Eurosceptic positions

Huhtasaari says she believes it would be in Finland’s strategic interest to exit the European Union, which she says has forced the Finnish people to pay for the Greek bailout and, according to her May Day speech this year, unjustly forced Finnish consumers to buy energy-saving lamps.

Although she prefers to focus on cultural and domestic policy issues, Huhtasaari has caused a stir with comments on international politics. In August she tweeted that (siirryt toiseen palveluun) 'nobody would come to help Finland if Putin comes', going on to clarify 'ten atomic bombs, it wouldn’t last long'.

This is an unorthodox stance for the somewhat staid and cautious world of Finnish foreign and security policy, where most politicians talk about EU security guarantees and international co-operation, as well as 'keeping the door open' to NATO membership.

Story continues after photo

Laura Huhtasaari Image: Hans Koistinen

Huhtasaari herself is firmly opposed to Finland joining the US-led military alliance, although she tells Yle's election compass (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that she 'somewhat agrees' that Russia is a threat to Finland--the only candidate to do so.

Treaty withdrawal on the agenda

Huhtasaari’s campaign slogan 'Taking Finland back ('Suomi takaisin') spells out her desire to claim back Finland from what she believes are the modern nemeses of supranational organisations, open borders and increased rights for sexual minorities.

She opposes gender neutral marriage, adoption rights for gay couples and complains about modern attitudes to gender and gender roles. Huhtasaari herself is married and has two daughters.

Consistent with her sceptical attitude towards international cooperation she says that – if elected president – she would withdraw from the Ottawa landmine ban treaty and seek to allow more logging in Finnish forests, against EU rules (although it is unclear what influence the office of the president can bring to bear on EU forestry policy).

In terms of immigration, she believes Finland should close its borders to migrants and holds up neighbouring Sweden as an example of what she says is problematic immigration. Huhtasaari, who has appeared at anti-immigrant "Finland First" demonstrations makes a point of saying that foreigners should respect Finnish culture and live according to local norms.

Former teacher

Prior to her election to Parliament, the religion and special education teacher had sat on the city council of Pori in southwest Finland for three years. In the municipal elections in the spring of 2017, the voters gave her strong backing to continue in local politics, with 2,500 votes – the most a candidate in Pori has ever received.

Huhtasaari grew up in the small town of Mänttä in Pirkanmaa, but spent a year as an exchange student in a US high school in the late 1990s. After passing her matriculation exam Huhtasaari worked as a volunteer in the Pacific, teaching English to school children in the island nation of Micronesia. A steadfast Christian and creationist, Huhtasaari was one of three Finnish politicians to be invited to US President Donald Trump’s national prayer breakfast in February 2017. She has openly endorsed Trump’s election, applauding his decision to impose a travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries.

The Finns Party nominated Huhtasaari as its presidential candidate in September 2017. While the party had initially considered throwing its support behind the sitting president Sauli Niinistö, leader Jussi Halla-aho bristled at what he saw as Niinistö’s interference in the party’s internal affairs during the June government crisis. Halla-aho himself declined nomination, and Huhtasaari was unanimously selected.

Among the most conservative of the presidential candidates but polling below five percent, it remains to be seen whether Huhtasaari can garner enough support among voters opposed to a more open, global and colourful Finland--let alone appealing beyond that base. For her, her stated goal of claiming Finland back from modern, liberal values may not be that easy a task.