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Yle poll: Leadership contest fails to revive support for Centre Party

The Centre Party chair who'll be elected this Saturday will face an uphill battle rebuilding the party's popularity.

Party support
The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. Image: Joonas Haverinen / Yle

The prospect of a change of leadership within the agrarian Centre Party has done little to boost support for the party, according to the latest poll by national broadcaster Yle. The survey of voter approval shows backing for the Centre led by interim chair and former Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, dipping below 12 percent of support last month.

Meanwhile the nationalist opposition Finns Party was the country's most popular in August, according to the poll. Some 20.6 percent of respondents said they support the Finns Party, giving the populists a three-percentage-point lead over the second-most popular, the centre-right National Coalition Party (17.4%), which came in second place, followed by Prime Minister Antti Rinne's Social Democratic Party (SDP), which received support from 16.9 percent of respondents.

Tough times ahead for new Centre leader

The Centre Party, which led the previous three-party administration, suffered severe losses in April's parliamentary elections and in Yle's August poll, support for the party fell by more than two percentage points to below 12 percent.

After the election, former-PM Sipilä claimed responsibility for the party's losses and stepped down as chair. In August, the two candidates duelling for that post - economic affairs minister Katri Kulmuni and defence minister Antti Kaikkonen travelled around the country making their cases to lead the party.

The new party leader will be chosen this Saturday at an annual congress in Kouvola, in southeast Finland.

The Centre holds the Minister of Finance's portfolio, but that has not appeared to help the party's approval ratings. Instead the post may be more of a burden as prospects for economic growth weaken and possible future tax increases or spending cuts loom.

Big issues ahead for SDP

After a June dip in ratings, the SDP saw a small uptick in the latest poll. At the same time the Greens' support fell after a summertime boost, as did the Left Alliance's figures.

Finland's EU presidency has dominated the first months of Rinne's administration, but the big questions on the economy and employment are directly ahead in early autumn.

The speed at which Rinne and Minister of Local Government and Ownership Steering, Sirpa Paatero, reacted to recent outrage over national mail carrier Posti's salary policies is also possibly a sign of increasing pressure ahead of challenging job market talks in the autumn.

The SDP (polling at 16.9 percent support) has yet to climb back to its post-parliamentary election approval rating of 17.7 percent.

Rinne in opposition cross hairs

Analysts say the NCP, polling in second place, has a learning curve ahead. The party has not been in the opposition for 12 years, and there are only a few MPs who would even remember the party line from those days.

NCP chair Petteri Orpo was first elected to Parliament in 2007, while the parliamentary group's chair Kai Mykkänen has been an MP for only two terms. The party is taking aim at Rinne's economic and employment policies, and is even now preparing its first interpellation on the new administration's employment strategy after the mid-September budget session.

Meanwhile, Finns Party chair Jussi Halla-aho has returned as an MP following five years as an MEP. Halla-aho resigned as chair of the Administration Committee in 2012 after contesting a conviction for hate speech. He declined a position as head of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, saying it would interfere with his Finns party chairmanship.

Out of the 2,440 respondents to the survey, a total of 1,683 people divulged their party affiliation. The margin of error in the survey, carried out by pollster Taloustutkimus, was two percentage points in either direction.

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