Foreign Minister and Blue Reform MP Timo Soini – best known for co-founding and later quitting the populist Finns Party – will not seek re-election to the Finnish Parliament in April. However he left the door open to a possible European Parliament bid in May.
Soini made the announcement in his blog on Tuesday, the last possible day to register as a candidate for next month's Finnish election.
He said he will support the fledgling Blue Reform party in its campaign ahead of the election on 14 April. In his post, Soini does not mention a possible bid to return to the European Parliament, writing only of beginning a "new journey after this stint as an MP".
Possible candidates for the European Parliament elections have until late April to register, a month before the 26 May poll.
Soini's decision is likely to have a major impact on the Blue Reform's chances in this spring's two elections. Since being established in mid-2017, the party's support has remained low despite its status as a government partner.
The most recent Yle public opinion poll shows support for the party languishing at just 1.4 percent.
Track record of electoral victories
In the 2015 Parliament election, Soini was the nation's second-most popular candidates, garnering nearly 30,000 votes, just behind Prime Minister Juha Sipilä.
The Blue Reform's parliamentary candidates this spring include defence minister Jussi Niinistö, European and cultural affairs minister Sampo Terho and parliamentary group leader Simon Elo.
In the 2015 election, Niinistö and Terho gathered about a third as many votes each as Soini.
Elo: "Blue Reform has a future without Soini"
Soini co-founded the Finns Party in 1995, leading it from 1997 to 2017, when it split into two. Its more hardline faction carried on under the old name led by MEP Jussi Halla-aho, and was replaced in the cabinet by the hastily-established Blue Reform.
He was first became an MP in 2003, switching to the European Parliament after a landslide win in 2009. Soini returned to the Finnish legislature two years later, leading the Finns Party to a massive electoral victory but opting to remain in the opposition.
Soini, now 56, has been foreign minister since 2015, first representing the Finns Party and then the Blues, arousing controversy over his participation in anti-abortion events while on official trips abroad.
On Tuesday parliamentary delegation chair Elo said that the Blue Reform still has a future without Soini. He told the news agency STT that the party takes "a positive view" of the idea that Soini might stand in the European Parliament election.