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Monday's papers: Tough govt formation talks expected, more women MPs, nationalism here to stay

Following Sunday's elections, none of the nation's newspapers expect forming a new government to be an easy task.

Perussuomalaisten puheenjohtaja Jussi Halla-aho ja SDP:n puheenjohtaja Antti Rinne eduskuntavaalien median tulosillassa Helsingissä 14. huhtikuuta.
The leaders of the top two parties in Sunday's election, Jussi Halla-aho of the Finns Party (left) and the SDP's Antti Rinne (right). Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

The independent daily Helsingin Sanomat notes how very tight Sunday's parliamentary elections were by pointing out that the winning margin enjoyed by the first-place Social Democratic Party was only some 6,800 votes ahead the second-ranked Finns Party.

This win, writes HS, was in no way as big as what SDP Chair Antti Rinne had expected. The 17.7 percent of the vote polled is the second lowest in the parliamentary election history of the party. The only time it has fared worse was in the 2015 election.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, it was "clear as day" that the SDP expected better results, and it predicts that Rinne will come in for criticism inside the party, and that his leadership will be challenged. Rinne himself said on Sunday that voters have "misunderstood" his party, but that is unlikely to work as an explanation.

It was a matter of life and death for the SDP to come out on top in this election. Getting stuck behind the Finns Party would have been catastrophic for the SDP. The status as the nation's largest party was the minimum that the SDP was aiming for.

Helsingin Sanomat says that upcoming government formation talks will be tough, but it is Rinne who will start leading those negotiations.

No more big parties

The Social Democratic Party newspaper Demokraatti today writes that it was a desire for change that won in these elections. This desire was channeled in two directions, with victories for the political left and for the Greens, but also for the populist Finns Party.

Demokraatti goes on to say that if it is assumed in Finland that "major parties" poll at least 20 percent of the vote, then there are only mid-sized parties left in the country. Success in this election is being measured above all on two scales - a comparison with results in the previous election, and how results stack up against the other parties. In both respects, writes Demokraatti, the SDP was the most successful party.

This paper says that the election results are so close and so exceptional that government formation talks will be complex. It points out that in a somewhat similar situation in the spring of 2011, negotiations on forming a new government took until Midsummer. Now, that is not really possible because of Finland's EU presidency, which begins on 1 July.

Dark day for the Centre

The Centre Party's Suomenmaa describes Sunday's loss as the gloomiest in the history of the traditionally rural-based party and predicts that it will generate a bitter internal debate on the reasons, and on the direction of the party must now take.

Suomenmaa notes that since the Centre's main partner in the previous government, the conservative National Coalition Party (NCP), did not suffer the same kind of defeat, there is plenty to ponder.

"Parliamentary elections have been held. The people have had their say, and their verdict on the Centre was especially harsh," writes Suomenmaa.

It quotes former Centre Party leader and PM Matti Vanhanen as saying Sunday evening that one key reason may be that some of the most painful decisions taken by that government during the last election period did not affect NCP voters as much as they did Centre voters.

Record number of women MPs

The Greens-affiliated Vihreä Lanka points out that in addition to the very close finish at the top, another notable feature of Sunday's vote is the increase in the number of women elected to Parliament.

As of early Monday morning, it looked as if Finland's new 200 member parliament will include 92 women MPs, a new record.

Of the 20 Green candidates elected to parliament - or 21 if a recount in Lapland goes in favour of the Greens - only three are men.

Vihreä Lanka also notes that all but six of the MPs in the Green's parliamentary group will be new faces. In addition, a new chair and new party secretary are to be elected at a party congress this coming summer.

Whether this "renewed" Green League will be promoting its policies in the cabinet, or in opposition, is something that will be seen within the next few weeks, notes Vihreä Lanka.

Familiar faces gone

The Oulu-based Kaleva writes that many familiar faces will be missing from the ranks of MPs in the new parliament.

The Blue Reform, which split from the Finns Party two years ago, failed to win a single seat in these elections. That means that four cabinet ministers in the last government, Sampo Terho, Pirkko Mattila, Jari Lindström and Jussi Niinistö, will be looking for new jobs. Foreign Minister Timo Soini, also of the Blue Reform, did not stand for reelection.

Veteran politician Paavo Väyrynen failed to regain a seat as a candidate of his recently formed Seven Star Movement. A former Centre Party leader, government minister, MEP, and presidential candidate, Väyrynen has been a fixture on the political scene since first being elected to parliament in 1970.

Nationalism here to stay

Finnish politics are now in uncharted waters, according to the newsstand tabloid Iltalehti.

In an editorial column, the paper's editor-in-chief Erja Yläjärvi writes that politics have entered a completely new age in which not one of the winners can forecast what will happen next. One sure thing is that the time of the three big parties is over.

In practice, the entire political opposition, the SDP, the Finns Party, the Greens and the Left Alliance, all marched to victory.

On the implications of the strong showing by the populist Finns Party, Yläjärvi wrote, "Finland is now clearly one of the numerous European countries where in election after election, anti-immigration sentiment and nationalism are permanently important values".

She adds that the pundits can forget the traditional coalitions of the past. Finland no longer lives in the old world where three big parties shared out power with junior partners. The situation is new, something that will make the weeks ahead as unpredictable as Sunday's elections were.

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