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Swedish People's Party: We're ready for govt formation talks

The opposition Swedish People's Party says that it stands ready to engage in negotiations should it become necessary for Prime Minister Juha Sipilä to form a new government. Party chair Anna-Maja Henriksson made the offer after the election of Euroscpetic anti-immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho as Finns Party leader cast doubt on the future of Sipilä's pro-EU three-party coalition.

Anna-Maja Henriksson
SPP chair Anna-Maja Henriksson addresses party members at a convention on Saturday. Image: Rikhard Husu / Yle

The opposition Swedish People's Party (SPP) has said that it is ready to enter into government formation talks in the event that Prime Minister Juha Sipilä elects to reconstitute the government coalition. On Saturday, party delegates overwhelmingly voted to install Eurosceptic Jussi Halla-aho as party chair, sparking speculation over the fate of Sipilä's pro-EU government coalition.

If the populist Finns Party leaves the government coalition and Sipilä's Centre Party partners with the National Coaliton Party, the Christian Democrats and the SPP, the new coalition would be able to muster a razor-thin 101-MP majority in the 200-seat Parliament.

"If a situation arises where there is a need to form a new government, then we are ready to sit at the table. It is the patriotic thing to do in such a case. But let's take one day at a time. We don't know yet what the policy of the new Finns Party chairman will be and what it will mean for this government coalition," Henriksson said at a party convention in Helsinki last weekend.

SPP lays down conditions for govt talks

The SPP currently has nine seats in the Parliament and 2015 marked the first time since 1975 that it did not form part of the government.

The party has laid down one condition for entering possible government formation talks, though – the Swedish-Finnish voter-dominated party said it would want to re-negotiate the current government platform. Speaking before the Finns Party vote that elected anti-immigrant hardliner Halla-aho, Henriksson listed the areas her party would recalibrate.

"We're talking about education, the direction of [the ongoing] social and health care reform and immigration. We need a new platform that’s suited to current times, if it comes to that," she declared.

During her address to party faithful, the SPP leader called on the nationalistic Finns Party to step out of its "black and white bubble". However delegates voting in the Finns Party leadership election had their own agenda.

"This result shows that people are deep in a black and white bubble. I'd like to see some signs of progress or even an attempt to break out, but at least so far, that has not been the case," Henriksson commented.

The SPP chair extended congratulations to the new leader of the Finns Party over his unequivocal victory in the election.

Tough times for government

SPP parliamentary group chair Stefan Wallin said he was not surprised by the outcome.

"There had been some signs in the air for some time. Clearly, since the party elite pushed for Sampo Terho to assume the chairmanship, this was pushback from the rank and file," Wallin remarked.

He speculated that the government will now find itself in a hot spot if Halla-aho sets out to implement some of the policies he championed during his campaign for the party leadership.

"I would assume that Juha Sipilä will try to keep this house of cards upright for as long as possible. It will call for a very long fuse from the Prime Minister, and indeed from all the other ministers," Wallin conjectured.

Halla-aho: "I won't recant on what I said"

Back in 2012 Halla-aho was convicted of hate speech over anti-Islamic blog posts dating to 2008. He likened Islam to paedophilia and said Somalis are predisposed to stealing and living off welfare. A lower court and the Finnish Supreme Court ruled that Halla-aho's writings constituted hate speech and did not enjoy the protection afforded by freedom of speech.

Following his election, Halla-aho said that he would not comment on his old texts, but declared that he would not renounce the ideas behind them. He remarked that his style had changed because of his increased public profile.

"I will not renounce what I have said. I have written about different things in different life circumstances, and I could not anticipate my political future. When circumstances change, your way of expressing yourself must also change," he added.

Finance Minister Petteri Orpo, who is also chair of the other government coalition member the National Coalition Party, has said that he would like to hold discussions with the NCP leadership and with PM Sipilä about whether the government can continue as it is currently constituted.

On Monday, Sipilä meets with Orpo and Halla-aho to discuss the way forward for the government. Yle reported on Monday afternoon that Sipilä had met with the chair of the Christian Democratic Party, Sari Essayah, as well as Greens chair Ville Niinistö, as well Henriksson.

Niinistö as well as the head of the Left Alliance Li Andersson are both said to be in favour of calling a new general election. Earlier on Monday Antti Rinne, chair of the largest opposition party the Social Democrats, said that he would be involved in the talks but anticipated that they would be difficult.

Edit: Updated at 2.15pm to reflect the progress of PM Juha Sipilä's discussions with government and opposition parties.

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