Speaking from Turku, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä announced Tuesday afternoon that he intended to reconstitute his governing coalition with the help of the New Alternative — a group of MPs who defected from the Finns Party following the election of anti-immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho as chair last weekend.
Sipilä said that ministers would be able to retain their current portfolios. He added that he had sought expert opinions on the legality of the move before announcing his decision.
Sipilä was expected to formally ask President Sauli Niinistö to dissolve Parliament following the break-up of the three-party government coalition on Monday. However he called off the meeting when news broke that a group of 20-odd MPs had broken with the Finns Party to form a new Parliamentary group, the New Alternative.
The group, which includes Foreign Minister Timo Soini, immediately signalled that it would be ready to discuss joining the government coalition. Its announcement threw a spanner in the works for the Swedish People’s Party and the Christian Democrats, who had both signalled a readiness to join a Juha Sipilä-led government — on condition that the senior coalition parties agree to reformulate the government agenda.
Sipilä's alliance with the New Alternative means that he will have 107 of a total of 200 seats in the Parliament, giving him slightly more leverage than the 101 votes he would have had if he had partnered with the SPP and Christian Democrats. The departure of the New Alternative MPs leaves the Finns Party with just 15 MPs in Parliament.
During their hastily-convened press conference earlier on Tuesday, the defecting MPs had lamented the change in the Finns Party with the election of the ultra-nationalist Jussi Halla-aho as chair.
Halla-aho: Scale of defections unexpected
Speaking at a Finns Party press conference Tuesday afternoon, Halla-aho said that he did not expect such a large-scale exodus from the parliamentary group.
"It was expected that one or a few MPs might have come to that kind of conclusion, but I didn’t expect such a large scale movement," he commented.
He revealed that neither the party leadership, the party office nor the head of the parliamentary group had been informed of the decision to split with the party in advance.
"It didn’t feel good at all," he added.
He said that in his view, the people who had split with the parliamentary group had also broken away from the party. Asked whether the departure of parliamentary group leader Sampo Terho had come as a surprise, Halla-aho prevaricated.
"Among the people who defected from the parliamentary group were individuals of whom I would have least expected. All were disappointing, but some were more disappointing than others," Hall-aho remarked.
He pointed out that during the party chair election campaign and when the results of the ballot were in, the candidates for chair and vice chair had committed to respect the election outcome.
"If this is their idea of respecting the outcome of a democratic election, then I have a different view,” Halla-aho concluded.
Edit: Updated at 4.40pm to include reaction from Finns Party chair Jussi Halla-aho.