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Monday’s papers: Voters trending Green, Green chair under fire, Harvey pressures presidents

Monday’s newspapers offer a mixed menu for breakfast reading. One daily looks at the rise of the Greens to become the country’s second most-popular political party, while others report on censure for the freshly-minted Green chair and how Hurricane Harvey is lashing the United States and putting pressure on presidential plans.

Aallot löivät rajusti rantaan Corpus Christin kaupungissa Harvey-hurrikaanin lähestyessä Texasin rannikkoa 25. elokuuta.
Tropical storm Harvey whips up waves in Corpus Christi, Texas. Image: Joe Raedle / AFP

Finland’s most widely-circulated newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat leads with something of an upset in the country’s political theatre. The party’s latest party approval poll shows the opposition Greens emerging as the second most-popular party, trailing only the government’s National Coalition Party.

This reflects the latest result of Yle's monthly tracking poll, which also had the Greens in second spot.

The results of the August poll, conducted by market research firm TNS Kantar, shows that the Greens have now surged forward to eclipse the largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Centre Party led by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä.

According to the poll, 17.5 percent of electors would vote for the Greens if an election took place now. Some 20.7 percent would vote for the NCP, while the SDP and the Centre would each get 17.3 percent of ballots.

TNS Kantar attributed the Greens’ consistent rise in the polls to voters from the SDP and other parties who appear to have shifted allegiance and gone Green. Unpacking the data, the pollster revealed that 12 percent of voters who backed the SDP during municipal elections said they would now vote Green. The corresponding number for the Left Alliance was 15 percent.

Moreover a majority of voters considered the Greens the country’s second most-popular party, with women voters more likely to form this judgment than their male peers. The Greens were least popular among Finns Party supporters.

"The Greens are seen in a very positive light on both the right and the left," said Kantar TNS director Sakari Nurmela. Analysts also speculated that the Green surge could be explained by ex-chair Ville Niinistö’s success in transforming the party from a one-issue group into a force with broader appeal, something that the SDP has yet to accomplish.

Green chair under fire

Meanwhile tabloid Ilta-Sanomat runs a piece in which the freshly-minted Greens chair, Touko Aalto, came in for some flak from government politicians on the weekend over a suggestion to offer temporary residence permits to undocumented migrants. Aalto was speaking specifically about rejected asylum seekers.

On Saturday, Aalto told HS that he agreed that failed asylum seekers should be deported, as long as they did not face persecution in the home countries. However, he expressed scepticism that Finnish immigration officials could provide accurate assessments of the security situation in the countries in question. He said that under those circumstances, he would be ready to grant temporary residence permits to individuals who could not be safely returned.

The reaction to Aalto’s comments was immediate and negative, with Simon Elo, parliamentary group chair of the breakaway Finns Party group New Alternative, calling the statements irresponsible and charging that the proposal would render the current asylum processing system meaningless. Deputy chair of the Centre parliamentary group, Markus Lohi, expressed a similar sentiment. And the National Coalition Party parliamentary group chair Kalle Jokinen said that implementing Aalto’s proposal would create a "pull factor" that would draw more asylum seekers to Finland.

IS reported Monday that Aalto sough to walk back his statements in a Facebook post Sunday evening, saying that he did not propose temporary residence permits for all rejected asylum seekers. He said called on authorities to defer deportations in cases where appeals to decisions were still before the Supreme Administrative Court. He also called for Finland to make it easier for applicants to receive work-based resident permits, noting that "people who’ve been able to land jobs usually have [Finnish] language skills, are motivated and integrated into society."

Harvey forces presidential schedule change

Forces of nature are not concerned with the plans of mice and men, and downgraded hurricane Harvey is no different. After a weekend of lashing Texas, the second-largest state in the US, and causing five deaths and widespread flooding and human displacement in the state’s most heavily populated city Houston, there are fears that Harvey could regain strength and curve back to the coast to refuel before turning inland once more.

Tabloid daily Iltalehti reports that it’s against that stormy backdrop that officials were forced to reschedule a meeting between Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and US President Donald Trump. The duo were originally scheduled to meet on Tuesday but will now put their heads together on Monday. Trump will then head to the storm-ravaged region on Tuesday. The presidents will offer a photo op in the Awning of the West Wing, before moving to the Oval Office for bilateral talks, where Niinistö is expected to discuss Baltic and Arctic matters.

Niinistö will raise the issue of upcoming Zapad military exercises involving Russia and Belarus, as well as manoeuvres off the Swedish coast that will include Finland and the US. Finland is currently chair of the Arctic Council, having taken the baton from the previous chair, the United States. The pair will have a joint press conference after the meeting during which each will read a statement and briefly take media questions.

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