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Finns Party chair: Publication of sexist book was "our mistake"

Jussi Halla-aho says the scandals that have kept Finns Party politicians in the headlines must stop.

Perussuomalaisten puheenjohtaja Jussi Halla-aho eduskunnassa 10. kesäkuuta.
Jussi Halla-aho has led the populist party for three years. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

The nationalist Finns Party (FP)'s executive council met in Helsinki on Saturday morning after a stormy week as it narrowly clings to its position as the country's largest opposition party.

Party chair Jussi Halla-aho called on members to refrain from sparking scandals, noting that there had been a long string of tabloid headlines about Finns Party politicians "screwing up".

Halla-aho said that when Finns Party politicians speak foolishly or behave badly, it is difficult for him to provide explanations to rank-and-file supporters.

Hopes for Turtiainen's return

He referred to the case of MP Ano Turtiainen, who was kicked out of the party's parliamentary delegation this week after a racist tweet insulting George Floyd, whose death has sparked demonstrations against racism and police brutality in the US and Europe.

Halla-aho said that party activism is "a team sport that requires certain table manners".

"It can't be that everyone else has to sacrifice their political and social capital to defend me, but that I have unlimited freedom to do and say whatever I want regardless of my teammates' opinions," the party leader said.

Halla-aho said that he hoped Turtiainen's expulsion would not be permanent, but that a return would require acceptance of these 'table manners'. Turtiainen is allowed to re-apply to join the parliamentary group as of the beginning of next year, but has in comments since said that the party should instead 'beg' him to return.

On Friday Halla-aho indicated that if the first-term MP does not intend to seek a return to the delegation, that would be 'automatic' grounds for permanent expulsion from the party itself.

Book furore: "Our mistake, period"

Halla-aho also commented on a misogynist, racist book published this week by a party-funded think tank. He said that there had been a great deal of negative feedback about the book from FP members and supporters.

"This was our mistake, period. We did not know that the book contained the kind of material that it did," Halla-aho said.

He added that the think-tank's publications do not represent the party's views but conceded that the ground rules of its relationship to the party have not been clear enough.

"We all have work to do to repair the damage done, particularly in regard to female citizens," Halla-aho said.

The think-tank, Suomen Perusta, receives state subsidies. Minister of Science and Culture Hanna Kosonen says that her ministry is looking into whether its operations violate the guidelines for such support. They stipulate that recipients must advance equality.

Halla-aho warned that "the use of state status to limit the funding and operational opportunities for opposition [parties] is a dangerous, un-European solution".

Last year the Ministry of Education and Culture clawed back support funding for the FP youth group after it posted a racist tweet, a decision which Halla-aho called "unreasonable".

Halla-aho was himself convicted of ethnic agitation and religious defamation for anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant blog posts in 2012.

Sinking support

The Finns Party came in a close second in last year's parliamentary elections, scoring 39 seats in the 200-seat legislature, one less than the SDP, which now leads the government.

After expelling Turtiainen from its delegation this week, the FP now has the same number of seats, 38, as the other main opposition bloc, the conservative National Coalition Party (NCP).

And while the FP led opinion polls for the year after the election, it had fallen behind the SDP in recent months. The latest Yle opinion poll shows it virtually neck-and-neck with NCP in a split second place.

The Centre Party's executive council also met on Saturday, but via videoconference.

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