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Friday's papers: Government in crisis over health, social reform plans

Overwhelmingly, it was the ongoing crisis in government that dominated Finnish newspaper headlines Friday morning.

Pääministeri Juha Sipilä puhuu puhelimeen valtioneuvoston linnassa Helsingissä perjantaiaamuna 6. marraskuuta
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä on the telephone, as seen through a window of the government palace on Friday morning, November 6, 2015. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

All 10 of the newspapers that arrived in Yle News' mailbox Friday morning were packed with the ongoing government crisis. Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has said he is ready to dismantle his own government if other parties do not fall into line regarding his proposed reforms to health and social care.

Sipilä’s Centre Party wants 18 new regions to manage and commission services, while Alexander Stubb’s National Coalition Party wants 12 new authorities at the most. The current number of regional authorities is 150.

Finland's largest daily Helsigin Sanomat's front page headline reads: "Government falters," and featured a two-page spread that details the dispute between Sipilä and Stubb.

In a more dramatic tone, the daily Aamulehti's front page on Friday was emblazoned in bold, capital letters: "GOVERNMENT CRISIS."

In a section devoted to the crisis, evening paper Iltalehti featured a column titled "Sipilä is bluffing – and lying".

Crisis turns on numbers - 12 or 18?

But newspaper readers might be left scratching their heads about what the big difference is between Sipilä's demand for 18 regions and Stubb's 12-region plans.

Either plan's reduction from the status quo of 150 is significant, but with such a large issue – a year budget of some 25 billion euros - it is difficult to interpret the financial repercussions of either of the reform plans.

In an analysis column, Helsingin Sanomat's Jaana Savolainen asked "how on earth does the government threaten to break up the government over 12 regions or 18?"

Savolainen writes that the political tension between the two parties shows how much regional influence plays a part in Finnish politics.

Sipilä’s Centre Party, which is strong in rural areas, "surprised everyone by making the 'take it or leave it' offer," Savolainen writes. "His refusal to compromise stunned representatives of other political parties because politics is usually based on compromise."

"The social and health reforms will revolutionise the tax system and central government," Savolainen writes, adding later that the Finns Party appears to be ready to go with either reform plan.

"Sipilä is bluffing – and lying"

In his "Perspective" column, Iltalehti scribe Tommi Parkkonen writes:

"For many younger citizens, president Urho Kekkonen is only a mythical bald man, a picture of whom they may have seen on the internet."

"But in all honesty it must be remembered that Kekkonen was a despot who for several decades dictated what kind of policies and decisions Finland made," Parkkonen wrote.

"Finland's current Prime Minister Juha Sipilä seems to have taken Kekkonen to heart regarding the "do as I say or there will be a new government."

"The prime minister has only brought the Centre Party's and his own world view to the negotiating table... Sipilä's vision of democracy and negotiations is worryingly Kekkonen-like," Parkkonen wrote.

Kekkonen was Finland's longest-serving president, from 1956 to 1981, whose policies balanced between improving the country's footing in the West while simultaneously tread carefully to assure peaceful relations with the country's powerful neighbour the Soviet Union.

Compromise hard to come by

According to Swedish-language Hufvudstadsbladet, professor of political science at the University of Helsinki Jan Sundberg says that the Centre party has a "very difficult time compromising."

Sundberg was quoted saying Sipilä's announcement that he was prepared to break up the government was surprising.

"It was a bit unexpected," Sundberg told the paper. "Up until now we've been discussing how the Finns Party fits in to government, but they've been relegated to the side, because they're not mired in the deep divide that exists between the Centre and NCP."

Later in the article Sundberg said: "The Centre Party has a very difficult time compromising about these 12 regions, because [compromise] would break up the regional council [support]. It would upset their base if the party starts to compromise," Sundberg said.

Negotiations are expected to continue on Friday morning.

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