With slightly fewer votes than expected, the Centre Party became the winner in last Sunday’s general election in Finland with 21.1 percent of the vote and 14 more MPs. More unexpected was that the Finns Party, even though it lost one seat, became parliament’s second biggest party (although the Coalition Party got more votes). The Social Democrats were pushed down to fourth place in an election that was historically bad for the ‘Left’. They have not had such a bad result since Finland became independent. Now the country awaits the outcome of Centre Party-led negotiations over who will sit next to them and implement new cuts.
During the last term, austerity, cuts and tax increases totaling €7bn was conducted by a Coalition Party-led government in which the Social Democrats and the Left Alliance (up until last year) both took part. In addition, the government forced the unions into a deal that raised the retirement age.
Before the election the anger against the incumbent government was massive. In a survey of Helsingin Sanomat, only one in ten gave the government a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ rating, while six out of ten gave them ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.
The result of the austerity measures has been that the economic crisis has deepened even more. Finland has experienced negative growth for three consecutive years and the economy is still five percent less than what it was in 2007. This year, forecasts expect a growth of one per cent, but many people question if there will be any growth at all.
The cuts have meant that the crisis in export industries has been combined with a stagnation of private consumption. Moreover, the situation has been exacerbated by the imperialist clashes in Ukraine and by the EU sanctions against Russia, which has meant drastically reduced exports of, for example, dairy products.
The war in Ukraine, where the EU and Russia battles for influence, has, just as in Sweden, strengthened the war-mongers, and now the Coalition Party wants to bring Finland into NATO while the Social Democrats want “an investigation”. When the Finnish radio and TV broadcaster, ‘Yle’, examined the parties’ election programmes they found that “defence” was mentioned one hundred times but the word “refugee” only five times. Despite the NATO propaganda in favour, there is still a majority against membership - 40 percent ‘no’ against 28 percent for ‘yes’, according to a survey by the Reservist Association.
With the Social Democrats directly responsible for the austerity policies it is not surprising that the party only got 16.5 percent of the votes and lost eight seats, while the Left Alliance lost two seats and only got 7.1 percent. A combined vote of less than 25 percent for the traditional working class parties in a Nordic country is something that would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago. The Left Alliance continues to lose the strong support they had in northern Finland. Its leader, Paavo Arhinmäki, lost more than half his votes in Sunday’s election - over 10, 000 - which says a lot about what the voters think about the party’s participation in government.
Another big loser in the election was the Conservative Party which lost seven seats. With the Centre Party and the Finns Party (both very conservative) as the two biggest parties in parliament, the percentage of women in parliament has also dropped, and out of 200 MPs, only two are migrants.
According to Hufvudstadsbladet, the election meant that the racist wing of the Finns Party parliamentary group was strengthened. The day after the election, when the Finns Party MP, Teuvo Hakkarainen, who has said he wants to deport “all gays and Somalis” to Åland, was reelected, he made new racist statements about "asylum tourism" and "Finland is not a Bedouin land".
The catastrophic election result for the Social Democrats reduced the possibility of a government of the Centre Party and the Social Democrats while the probability of a government based on the Centre Party and the Finns Party increased. But with Finland’s history of "broad" coalition governments, it is impossible to say how the government negotiations will end.
Cuts will continue
What is already clear, though, is that the new government will continue the austerity policies. The Ministry of Finance said, just before the election, that an additional €6 bn “must” be cut in the public sector in the next few years - something all parties except the Left Alliance agreed to. The worst austerity fundamentalists are the Conservative Party and the Swedish People’s Party, but also the Finns Party, even though they want to spread the cuts over two terms.
The Left Alliance’s credibility in their opposition to austerity can be questioned, since, during the last term, before they left the government, they took part in a cuts programme, which accorded with the EU austerity pact, of €5bn. In addition, Paavo Arhinmäki has not closed the door to participating in a Centre Party led government, which will clearly be an austerity government.
But austerity is being questioned more and more, even by economists. Sweden’s former conservative Finance Minister, Anders Borg, engaged as an "expert" for the government, does not believe in more austerity, but wants instead, unsurprisingly, to have tax breaks for capitalists and attacks on wages and conditions at work.
The Centre Party leader, Juha Sipilä, announced directly after the election that austerity policies are something the Centre Party and other government parties must agree on before a government can be formed. Sipilä also wants to meet with the unions and business organisations to create a ‘Social Contract’ that “makes the labour market more flexible", "increases competitiveness" and "lowers the threshold for getting a job". That means, in addition to public spending cuts, new fresh attacks on labour rights and the status of the trade unions are anticipated.
Finland follows a global trend where confidence in the established parties is crumbling when they pass the burden of the capitalist crisis onto workers, pensioners and the youth. Also the Finns Party is increasingly seen as part of the establishment. This opens up the possibilities for new parties.
The election results in Finland are a striking example of the disastrous consequences of the change in the nature of the traditional “left” – abandoning pro-working class and socialist policies and participating in capitalist austerity governments. The Finnish Social Democrats are today a right-wing party and although the Left Alliance pulled out of the previous government and did not agree to the last round of cuts, the working class has little confidence in them.
However, there are opportunities. In the election, a Left Alliance candidate and Left Youth Chairman, Li Andersson, who criticised the Left Alliance’s participation in the government, received the seventh highest vote of all candidates throughout the country and the most votes in the Turku region. In the unions there is still a fighting spirit with strikes and walk outs taking place. A political alternative to the austerity policies of capitalism, which could be combined with the struggle against the government and big business attacks in both public and private workplaces, could mean a rebirth of a real left alternative in Finland.