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Finns Party ponders power

The Finns Party are gathered in Joensuu this weekend for their party congress. Amid the procedural motions and internal elections, the upstart populists appear to be preparing for a push to win a place in government after the next elections.

timo soini puoluekokouksessa 29062013
Timo Soini addressing the weekend Finns Party congress Image: Yle Areena

There was no doubt who was the big star at the party's meeting yesterday. Timo Soini, known across the continent as a eurosceptic populist, announced to the party faithful that he would not run in the European elections. Instead, he wants to become Finland's prime minister.

The leader, who has served as an MEP and forged close links with other Eurosceptics including Nigel Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party, said that the decision was also about his own quality of life.

"I have a personal life,” noted Soini. "It’s more pleasant in Finland than in an Ikea-furnished flat in Brussels. I have experience of that."

His troops are in high spirits. A recent Yle poll showed that the two opposition parties were now more popular than the six in government. The only government party to show an increase in support in the tracking poll was the Green League, with the National Coalition Party (NCP) relegated to third place.

Finns councillor: Greens "close to terrorism"

The Finns Party, which declined to join the government in a dispute over European policy after the last elections, is now considering what it would be like to exercise real power.

One thing is clear: Those who currently hold that responsibility are not popular among the party’s rank-and-file members. An Yle survey showed that an overwhelming majority of Finns Party councillors would prefer their MPs to join a government with the Centre Party, with the SDP a distant second.

The NCP is particularly disliked by Finns Party councillors, with 27 percent naming it as the party they would least like to join in government.

"The NCP is a rich bourgeois party, that wants to import more workers on poverty pay," wrote one.

Greens were also targeted by the Finns Party's elected representatives. One said that the Green League was the least attractive government partner because "environmental activism is close to terrorism". Another said the Greens were "too liberal a party, that over-emphasises every kind of minority issue".

Tougher on immigration?

The new party secretary elected on Sunday, Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo, is well known as an advocate of stricter immigration policies for Finland.

Perussuomalaisten puoluesihteeri Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo ja puheenjohtaja Timo Soini Perussuomalaisten puoluekokouksessa.
Party Secretary Riikka Slunga-Poutsalo with Chairman Timo Soini following her election on Sunday. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

She says the background of her position is her own experience as an immigrant in Lebanon and Sweden.

"We have to learn from the mistakes of other countries and avoid them, especially in immigration policy," said Slunga-Poutsalo.

Slunga-Poutsalo was put forward in the race for the party secretary's spot mainly as a candidate representing women's interests.

Soini noted that her stand on immigration issues came as no surprise to party members. According to Soini, the position of the immigration-critical faction has not gained strength, even though another vocal critic of present immigration policies, MP Juho Eerola was re-elected to the leadership.

Soini and the new deputy chairs elected this weekend will now have to interpret their members' often contradictory wishes, maintain their support in the polls and chart a path to power. No easy task for Finland's newest political force.

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