Finland's breakaway Blue Reform political party, which split from the anti-immigrant Finns Party last summer, has named Sampo Terho as its chair at its first official party congress on Saturday. Terho was uncontested in the race for the burgeoning party's leadership.
Polls put public support for the new political party at around just one percent of the voting population.
"The task is the same that our former chair [Timo Soini] was presented with: back then the party started out with one percent backing," Terho said shortly after his appointment.
Finns Party chair Jussi Halla-aho maintained in an Yle television show interview that same morning that there is no place for the splinter party in Finland's political arena.
Assuming Finns Party's place in government
Sampo Terho is currently serving as Finland's Minister for European Affairs, Culture and Sports. He is also the chairman of the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity and was earlier a Member of the European Parliament under the Finns Party banner.
In June, Terho ran against MEP Jussi Halla-aho for chairmanship of the anti-immigrant Finns Party. A few days after he lost the leadership contest, Terho and 19 other prominent party members left the Finns Party – which they say had taken an excessively right-wing turn – to found a brand-new parliamentary group they called the New Alternative. The name was later changed to Blue Reform.
After the split, and the imminent risk of the government coalition dissolving, members of the New Alternative group took the Finns Party's place in the cabinet and Terho and several others continued on as ministers.
Blue Reform was only registered as an official political party in mid-November. Before this, the splinter group conducted a four-month campaign to come up with the required 5,000 'support cards' required by Finnish law to be recognized as a political party.
How to differentiate themselves
At present the Blue Reform party has five ministerial posts, several MPs and a budding field organisation under its belt. Even so, Terho admits that there are challenges ahead.
"Profiling ourselves so voters know what we represent will take a lot of time," he said.
Although the party chair position was uncontested, the party meeting had some moments of friction in its naming of several other party positions later in the day. Employment Minister Jari Lindström was elected first deputy, MP Tiina Elovaara was chosen as second deputy, and surprise name Tiina Ahva, who has headed the new party's youth contingent, was named as third deputy.
Minister of Social Affairs and Health Pirkko Mattila was considered a strong name for a deputy spot going into the voting, but eventually lost out to the other candidates.
MP Matti Torvinen was voted party secretary by a clear margin in the first round of voting.
Soini hanging in there
Former Finns Party leader Timo Soini was one of the party members that was disappointed last June when convicted hate speech disseminator Halla-aho was elected party leader. He says that the Blue Reform group now feels like his ideological home.
"Unfortunately, the movement that Raimo Vistbacka and I set in motion no longer exists. That's why we're in today's situation," he told Yle from Saturday's Blue Reform meeting.
When asked about his future plans, and if he will run for an MP seat in the 2019 parliamentary elections, Soini was reluctant to say anything definite.
"I won't rule anything out. I had already decided that my days of political representation were over when I left the Finns Party. Now I've got to see what happens and proceed with caution," he said.