Finns Party MEP Jussi Halla-aho told the daily Helsingin Sanomat that he will most likely challenge Foreign Minister Timo Soini for the chairmanship of the party in elections due next year.
Known for his anti-immigration rhetoric, the Europarliamentarian said that he had been contacted by many people asking him to stand in the election. Halla-aho said that the appeals stemmed in part from voters’ disappointment with the party’s policies on immigration while in government.
The potential contender stopped short of criticising Soini, but he condemned the party for its cautious approach. He added that the relaxation of the party line on key issues was reflected in its weak showing in political polls, also hindering its operations in government.
Halla-aho rejected speculation that he might run for the presidency in the 2018 election. He said that support for incumbent Sauli Niinistö is so strong that the Finns Party should carefully weigh putting forward a candidate.
The party will elect a chairman and a possible candidate for the 2018 presidential election during their annual party congress in early June.
Halla-aho maintains a controversial blog which is devoted mainly to writings about immigration and multiculturalism. In 2012 he was convicted of hate speech for anti-Islamic statements written in a blog post. The statements compared Islam to paedophilia and claimed that Somalis are predisposed to stealing and living off welfare
He is also is a member of Suomen Sisu, a group that describes itself as patriotic and nationalist, and which opposes immigration and multiculturalism.
Other prominent members of the group include MP Olli Immonen, who sparked heated national debate last year over a Facebook post in which he called for a "fight to the end" against the "nightmare called multiculturalism"; and James Hirvisaari, who was kicked out of the party after photographing and posting online an image of a friend making a Nazi salute in the Finnish Parliament.