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Finns Party chair: "We are not a populist party"

Newly re-elected chair Jussi Halla-aho declared his party to be Finland's main opposition party.

Jussi Halla-aho
Halla-aho addressed the party faithful on the second day of their conference in the south-central city of Tampere. Image: Mikko Ahmajärvi / Yle

MEP Jussi Halla-aho, who was re-elected on Saturday for a second two-year term as chair of the nationalist Finns Party, outlined his policy goals in an address to a party congress in Tampere a day later.

The immigration hardliner ran unopposed for the leadership of the party and, in effect, of the political opposition. His party has just one seat fewer in Parliament than Prime Minister Antti Rinne's Social Democratic Party, and has been topping opinion polls since April's election.

In his speech, Halla-aho declared his party to be Finland's main opposition party. Therefore, he told the party faithful, its duty is not to "yap at everything" but to point out the shortcomings and mistakes of the government. Rinne's five-party centre-left coalition cabinet took office in early June.

"We are not a populist party," Halla-aho said, signalling a break with the party's co-founder and longtime chair Timo Soini, who did not shy away from using the term. Soini left the party two years ago and quit politics altogether this spring after serving as foreign minister.

"We have succeeded in finding the kinds of approaches to issues that unite the interests of different population groups," Halla-aho added.

"The new Soviet Union"

Halla-aho said that the party's supporters should not dwell on those questions where they have differences of opinion, but rather on the themes that unite them, citing immigration and supporting the disadvantaged as examples.

He compared today's atmosphere to the Cold War era, when he said that criticising the Soviet Union was socially objectionable and could lead to being politically isolated.

"In today's Finland and more broadly in western countries, immigration, Islam, sexual minorities and the European Union have become the new Soviet Union," Halla-aho said to applause from the audience.

In 2012, Halla-aho was convicted of hate speech and fined for insulting online comments about Islam and immigrants.

Earlier on Sunday, conference delegates elected a new 48-member party council, which in turn will select the party board.

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