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New Greens chair Maria Ohisalo elected by unanimous vote

Interior minister Ohisalo was the only candidate vying for the Green Party's leadership position.

Vihreiden väistyvä puheenjohtaja Pekka Haavisto ja uudeksi puheenjohtajaksi ehdolla oleva Maria Ohisalo vihreiden puoluekokouksessa Porissa.
Pekka Haavisto and Maria Ohisalo on 15 June. Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

Finland's Greens elected Maria Ohisalo as the party's new chair in their party congress in the western city of Pori on Saturday. The freshly-appointed interior minister was voted into the position unanimously.

In her acceptance speech, Ohisalo emphasized her responsibilities as interior minister, saying the office was at the "core of fundamental human rights", as it is responsible for police operations, border control and immigration.

"I'm not frightened of trolls and I'm not afraid of Nazis," she said, perhaps foreseeing future conflicts with the largest opposition party in Parliament, the anti-immigrant Finns Party.

The new Greens chair said that the fights against climate change and poverty were the most important political objectives.

"We must combat climate change in a way that gets everyone on board. The bill cannot be paid by only those who are already having troubles making ends meet. I want to build a Finland in which the societal safety net works," Ohisalo said.

As a PhD-level researcher of poverty, Ohisalo suggested she plans to use her knowledge and experience to address increasingly inequality in Finland.

"I know what poverty in this society is. I have lived it, I have seen it and I have researched it," she said.

Haavisto's critical support

Outgoing chair Pekka Haavisto – Finland's foreign minister as of early June – said in his speech that the Greens are now a cornerstone of Prime Minister Antti Rinne's five-party coalition.

"This is the greenest government programme in history. If there are any parts of the agenda that deviate from the Greens' own manifesto, it may be due to the fact that four other parties were in attendance at the House of Estates," he said.

In his parting address to the congress, Haavisto also called to mind the party's situation last autumn, when then-chair Touko Aalto stepped down from his position due to health reasons and public support for the Greens of Finland began to fall. Maria Ohisalo briefly filled in for Aalto until a new chair could be elected, but said she was unavailable to continue as chair, despite her clear popularity.

As the party's two-time presidential candidate and one-time chair in the mid-nineties, Haavisto agreed to step into the role temporarily, promising to secure election victories in the parliamentary and EU elections in the spring.

He proved good on his word, after the Greens won a record 20 MP seats in April and two MEP seats in May. If Brexit becomes a reality, the party will also gain a third MEP seat – giving Finland's Greens as many seats in the European Parliament as the country's centre-right National Coalition Party.

History in the party wings

34-year-old Maria Ohisalo was named Finland's new interior minister in June, after the Greens' historic victory at the polls earned her a first-term seat in parliament.

Even though she had been unsuccessful in earlier attempts to gain a MP position, the doctor of social sciences had been busy behind the scenes, serving as the party's youth wing chair in 2013-2014 and as deputy chair of the party since 2015. She has also held a seat as a representative of the Greens on the Helsinki City Council from 2017 to 2019.

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