News that President Sauli Niinistö has decided to contest next year’s presidential election came as no surprise to many. What did throw some off-balance was Niinistö’s declaration Monday that he would enter the race as a non-affiliated candidate, essentially shaking off overt ties with the National Coalition Party that he represented in the 2012 presidential election.
Political scientist and researcher Juhani Suomi told largest circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat that Niinistö had pulled off what he termed "political sleight of hand", which he said aimed to dispel the idea that Niinistö was a representative of the conservative right.
"He doesn’t want to be labelled a candidate of one or two parties, but he wants to be a candidate of the entire nation," Suomi concluded, adding that Niinistö’s election by a grassroots movement would consolidate his position.
Political history professor Vesa Vares agreed with Suomi, adding that Niinistö’s tactic is logical for a sitting president whose appeal crosses party lines. "He is showing that he is already a statesman, while the others are party candidates," said Vares.
However the strategy is not unique, Vares pointed out. He cast his mind back to former President Tarja Halonen, who ran for a second term in 2006 with the backing of the Social Democratic Party and the Left Alliance.
Suomi noted however, that with presidential powers curtailed to cover mainly foreign policy, areas such as security policy are increasingly influenced by various interest groups. "Niinistö has attempted to profile himself as one of the few [candidates] who still has ties to Russia."
Final chapter in Ylegate saga?
Monday also saw what many hope is the final chapter in a saga that has embroiled national broadcaster Yle in a cloud of suspicion and intrigue. What began with Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s reported displeasure over coverage of ties between a company owned by his relatives and the beleaguered state-owned Talvivaara mine, ended with the departure of editor-in-chief Atte Jääskeläinen from the company on Monday.
According to tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat Jääskeläinen’s fate was sealed when Helsingin Sanomat published an in-depth profile of the Yle heavyweight, including a comment in which Jääskeläinen seemingly threatened to pull Yle from the self-regulating media watchdog JSN. In March, the JSN had ruled that Jääskeläinen modified some stories and killed follow-ups on the Sipilä imbroglio following the premier’s outbursts over the original reporting.
IS suggested that on Sunday, the Jääskeläinen profile prompted the Yle board to revise the agenda for its regular Monday meeting, which then took place early in the day and culminated with the announcement of Jääskeläinen’s departure at 3.00pm.
IS spoke with Jussi Eronen, one of the three journalists who worked on the Sipilä stories and who subsequently quit Yle over what he saw as suppression of free speech. Eronen said he was surprised by the outcome, given that the Yle board had steadfastly stuck with Jääskeläinen for six months. He added that it was not clear whether or not anything would change at the national broadcaster.
"I hope that the Yle management safeguards freedom of speech, and no longer goes down the road of protecting politicians. It’s now necessary for other media to closely monitor this."
Chemically-purged lake goes from cloudy to clear - and back
Further afield in Turku, southwest Finland, Turun Sanomat reports that celebrations over a lake whose waters went from cloudy to clear after a chemical treatment are fading. The reason: divers who took the plunge last Sunday found that the waters had once more become murky, just two weeks after the treatment.
According to diver Teppo Halonen, the waters of Littoinen Lake in southwest Finland are now cloudier than the average lake in Finland. However, Milja Vepsäläinen a specialist with Vahanen Environment, the company that was responsible for the chemical purge, said she was surprised that the water remained clear as long as it did. She said that in some lakes, the waters cleared up for just a few days after treatment.
"The clarity is always temporary. Cloudiness is a good thing, because now there is not too much light for the plant life. There shouldn’t be any algae now," she added. On the bright side, PH levels in the lake are increasing and measured 6 one week ago. Experts hope that it will rise to a neutral 7 and remain there by summer. This is a vast improvement from its worst state when the PH was a very alkaline 10.
Earlier this month Vahanen Environment dumped nearly 200 tons of polyaluminum chloride in the lake to bind phosphorous to the bottom and reduce overpowering algal growth.
Mother knows best?
IS also looks at a story closer to home, in which a central Finland court sentenced two women to fines and compensation to be paid to the 11 year-old daughter of one of the women. The court found the women guilty of distributing sexually offensive images of a minor, the 11 year-old girl.
The case turned a 40-odd year-old mother’s desire to have PR photos of the child for her website. The girl was at the time a child model in training. In the first instance the mother dressed the child in a black mini skirt or shorts and high heels and also did her makeup and hair in the manner of an adult. A slightly younger female friend then instructed the child to assume sexual poses on a staircase, in a manner that emphasised her legs.
Later, without her mother’s knowledge, the child posed for additional photos at the photographer’s home, wearing skimpy clothing and a gas mask. Two of the pictures showed only the child’s body, highlighting her bare stomach and legs. One photo showed the girl lying on the floor with an adult woman sitting above her on a bench.
The girl’s mother used four of the first set of pictures on her Facebook page. However the photographer published 29 other photos of the girl on her own Facebook page, along with other erotic images of adult women featuring bondage or violence. The girl’s father came across the images and filed a criminal report. The court slapped the mother with a 15-day fine amounting to 90 euros, while the photographer was sentenced to a 30-day fine totalling 180 euros. The women were also jointly ordered to pay the girl 900 euros for the ordeal.