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NCP seeks Helsinki mayoral candidate after Piha withdraws

The party hopes to nominate a replacement candidate by next week, with the election due to be held on 18 April.

Kirsi Piha, Helsinki 28.11.2020
Kirsi Piha announced her decision to withdraw as the National Coalition Party (NCP) candidate for mayor of Helsinki via a blog post. Image: Kimmo Hiltunen / Yle

The National Coalition Party (NCP) is scrambling to find a candidate to run for the position of Helsinki mayor after Kirsi Piha withdrew her candidacy with the election just over six weeks away.

Piha announced her decision via a blog post (external link in Finnish) entitled Kiitos ja näkemiin (‘Thanks and goodbye’) published over the weekend, in which she expressed doubts over her ability to represent as mayor the "full spectrum of values" within the party.

"The National Coalition Party’s core value is to create a prosperous and active society where everyone has the opportunity to strive, to work and to live a good life. Everyone. It is not based on prejudiced thinking that discriminates against different groups," Piha wrote.

The announcement by the former MP increases pressure on party leader Petteri Orpo as the NCP strives to retain the mayorship of the capital. Incumbent Jan Vapaavuori announced last November that he would not be seeking another term of office.

The All Points North podcast is interviewing the leaders of each of the main political parties ahead of the municipal elections on 18 April. You can hear the latest episode in this embedded player, via Yle Areena, on Spotify or via your favoured podcast provider.

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Piha’s announcement was preceded by disagreements on social media with more right-wing members of the NCP and has led to speculation that she did not have the party's full support, but Orpo told Yle that was not the case.

"Kirsi Piha had the full support of the National Coalition Party as well as the party leadership, myself and the party organisation. We did our work and we were preparing for the mayoral campaign as part of the municipal election campaign. I don't accept this [suggestion]," he said.

According to the results of a poll (external link in Finnish) published over the weekend by local Helsinki daily Helsingin Uutiset, the NCP could be in danger of losing the mayorship as the race heats up.

The poll found that the Green Party was now the most popular party in the capital, with 23.5 percent support, slightly ahead of the NCP on 22.9 percent.

Party aims to nominate candidate next week

According to Yle’s information, the party intends to nominate a new mayoral candidate at an extraordinary general meeting next Monday 8 March.

Member of Parliament Juhana Vartiainen told Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday evening that he was considering putting his name forward, while former pharmaceutical executive and peace negotiator Juha Christensen has also been suggested as a possible candidate.

An MP from the more conservative end of the NCP spectrum, Wille Rydman, told the online news agency Verkkouutiset that he would not be putting his hat in the ring. Rydman lost the party’s nomination to Piha by a vote of 67 to 34 in February.

Kimmo Sasi, a former member of Parliament for the NCP, told Yle that the party is facing a tough challenge to find a credible mayoral candidate in such a short space of time, and this could have a major impact on the municipal election result.

"At the moment we have a populist right-wing and a populist green left-wing. The party is buried somewhere in between. The party hasn’t really been able to find a clear message to voters in this situation," Sasi said, adding that current mayor Vapaavuori may be approached by the party and asked to reconsider his position on leaving politics.

Vapaavuori was however not willing to comment when asked by Yle.

MP announces run for city council

Also over the weekend, NCP vice-chair and MP Elina Lepomäki announced via her Facebook page that she intends to run as a candidate for a seat on Helsinki city council in the upcoming elections.

Lepomäki had previously said that she would not be running due to her personal circumstances.

In the 2019 parliamentary elections, Lepomäki's personal vote haul was the fifth highest in the country.

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