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Wednesday's papers: U-turns, hushed meetings and a devastated Halla-aho

Today’s papers focus on the various flip-flops and scenes of political theatre surrounding the averted government crisis.

Pirkko Mattila (vas.), Kari Kulmala, Sampo Terho, Jussi Niinistö, Jari Lindström, Kimmo Kivelä, Ritva Kike Elomaa, Tiina Elovaara ja Simon Elo.
The New Alternative parliamentary group. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

The past few days have been somewhat of a political circus. Far-right immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho was elected the new chair of the nationalist Finns Party, sparking mutiny between party lines and causing the near-collapse of Finland's three-party centre-right coalition government.

At the last minute, 20 MPs defected and formed a new parliamentary group, the New Alternative, pushing Halla-aho's Finns Party into the opposition and saving PM Sipilä's coalition.

All the dailies, like Ilta-Sanomat, Aamulehti and Helsingin Sanomat offered insight and analysis on how the power takeover happened. After a devastating loss to the far-right wing of the Finns Party, former chair Timo Soini’s supporters gathered in disbelief to lick their wounds. As the party convention in Jyväskylä rolled on, and Halla-aho announced his more nationalistic, Eurosceptic line, Finns Party insiders say it became clear something had to be done.

When Sipilä announced he would be handing in his resignation on Tuesday, Soini’s supporters had a mere 24 hours to mobilize. 20 Finns Party members gathered to form a new parliamentary group by mid-day Tuesday, and handed in their resignation to the Finns Party, subsequently preventing the government's collapse.

”I think it’s very telling that out the 20 MPs involved, nobody leaked anything and this remained insider information until the very end,” said Simon Elo, chair of the New Alternative.

Helsingin Sanomat writes that the division between the Finns and the New Alternative extends beyond parliament, as local governments in the Helsinki metropolitan area are also splintering.

Halla-aho devastated

The shock move by the moderate wing of the nationalist Finns Party took everyone by surprise – especially new chair Jussi Halla-aho.

After the announcement, Halla-aho offered despondent comments, Ilta-Sanomat and Helsingin Sanomat report.

“This is one of the most depressing days ever, because I usually have a positive attitude towards other people and especially my fellow party members,” Halla-aho.

He said he was greatly disappointed that certain members had defected, but refused to give out any names and said he would not take this personally.

Unexpected u-turn

Ilta-Sanomat chronicles a scene sure to leave its mark on Finnish political history. On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä stepped in the cockpit of a CitationJet CJ2+ plane, and flee from Helsinki to the President’s summer residence in Naantali, resignation letter in hand. After landing at Turku airport, Sipilä began the short drive to Kultaranta. Moments before taking the exit sign to Naantali, Sipilä and his entourage received news of the dramatic splintering of the Finns Party, and made a hasty u-turn back to the airport.

A glowing Sipilä met confused reporters at the Turku airport VIP lounge, and announced a resignation was not necessary after all.

At a joint press conference with coalition party leaders on Tuesday evening, ex-candidate for Finns Party chairmanship Sampo Terho shared details of the government’s new power dynamic. Terho will represent the New Alternative in leadership meetings, and will essentially assume the role he would have taken if he were chosen the Finns Party chair.

Finally, Terho took out a Finns Party pin former leader Timo Soini had removed from his lapel earlier that day.

“The decision was a tough one, but we feel it was the only option,” Terho said.

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