Hang on, hang on

April 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just a quick post to say:

  1. Sorry for the lack of updates recently, it has been a busy fortnight and I am working on a couple of other things. Soon (hopefully later today) you will be able to read my epic Ethiopia profile
  2. Results from Finland can be found here, and results from Nigeria are here and here.
  3. Elections in Yemen and Syria have been postponed so the next election will be the Nigerian gubernatorials (see above) and then Laos. I will profile Laos at some point next week.

Guest post: Here comes the bear man

April 17, 2011 § 8 Comments

Chris Terry: co-founder of the Britain Votes blog and an expert in European politics, has written about today’s election in Finland. He has outdone himself and if you are feeling as fragile as I am this morning you might want to get yourself a cup of tea before you start. It is, however, absolutely fascinating. World elections has also done a briefer preview which is well worth a read as a summary. Here’s Chris:

Here comes the Bear Man: A guide to the Finnish election

On Sunday the 17th of April the people of Finland go to the polls. This election has taken on special resonance due to the strong polling of the True Finns, a strongly anti-establishment, anti-European (arguably) right-wing populist party. On current polls they are within striking distance of the top spot. If the True Finns reach government it will have effects far beyond Finland’s borders as a central plank of True Finns policy is ‘no more EU bailouts’. As EU bailouts work on a consensus basis with all members having to agree True Finns could veto a bailout of, say, Spain. This article in the Financial Times outlines fears both amongst EU leaders and amongst international financial experts, and the FT also says the EU is drawing up contingency plans in case they veto the Portugal bail-out. Consider, this, then, your all-expenses paid guide to the Finnish parliamentary election of 2011.

A brief history of Finland

Aside: the maps – showing the election results in 1995 and 2007 – come courtesy of Electoral Geography

Finland is unique in a lot of ways. Firstly Finnish is a unique language, one of only three national languages in Europe from the Finno-Ugric language family, the other two being Estonian and Hungarian. Reputed to be a beautiful language, it was used as the basis of one of JRR Tolkien’s Elvish languages in the Lord of the Rings. For most of its history Finland was a border region, with the territory being a source of conflict between Russia and Sweden, however Sweden ruled, in one form or another, from 1150 to 1809, after which Finland was under Russian control as the Grand Duchy of Finland from 1809 until 1917.

Like their Scandinavian cousins, however, the Finns never had serfdom and, whoever was ruling, generally day to day affairs were run by traditional local assemblies called tings. As such, like their Nordic cousins, the local peasantry came to be exceptionally well off and well educated, they were also represented in the diet (parliament), and were politically active. As such labour and farmers movements have always been strong in Finland, developing into Social Democratic and Agrarian parties when democracy came. As local bureaucracy developed it came to be done in Swedish, because the Russians were particularly bad colonisers. The administration was not done by Swedes, however, but rather by Finns who learned Swedish to climb the social ladder. To this day Swedish-speaking Finns are a significant, albeit decreasing, lingual minority with 5.5% of Finns speaking the language as their first language. Swedish speakers also tend to be much more middle class, on the whole, though the country demonstrates impressive social mobility in any case.

During the 19th century, as elsewhere in Europe, there was an upsurge of nationalism, which was slightly fanned by the Russian rulers who wanted to divide Finns from Swedes. This was wound up in issues of class, language, and political liberalism. Russia belatedly began a policy of Russification in 1899 but when the Russian Revolution of 1905 happened the Finns happily joined in and held a general strike. In 1906 Finland was given significant autonomy and a unicameral parliament to replace the old four chamber diet, which, in a European first, was elected by universal suffrage. When the Russian Revolution happened in 1917 it threw Finland into turmoil. As Russia engaged in a prolonged civil war Finland began its own, seperate, but related civil war between Socialist Reds and capitalist Whites. The Finnish civil war was brief, lasting only a few months, and the Whites won, but it was to have deep effects. Firstly the country became an independent state, briefly deciding to be a monarchy, with a German King. Germany’s defeat in World War 1 put that idea on ice and it was decided to become a Semi-Presidential republic. Additionally the Social Democratic Party (SDP) had been on the Red side in the war. Pre-war it had been dominant, like the Scandinavian social democratic parties. It held a majority of seats in parliament and had won 47% of the vote in 1916 but in the wake of the loss in the Civil War the Communist Party of Finland split away from it. Unlike elsewhere in Scandinavia the Communists came to be one of the largest parties and thus the left in Finland was permanently weakened, compared to other Nordic states, by the stain and memory of the Civil War – on the one hand – and the permanent division in the left on the other.

Then, on the 30th of November 1939, the USSR invaded Finland. The Finns were dwarfed in numbers, with the Red Army having three times as many troops, thirty times as many planes and one hundred times as many tanks. However Stalin’s purges had reduced its effectiveness as a fighting machine and, the Finns put up a spirited defense, fighting a guerilla war using the Finns’ superior knowledge of the territory, the dark of the Finnish winter, and using Molotov cocktails, named after the Soviet Foreign Minister. The conflict was divided into two wars, the ‘Winter War’ and the ‘Continuation War’ seperated by a 150 day interim peace. The Finns ended up aligning with the Germans, which for a while was a source of some discomfort post-war but it has since been revealed that Germany ceded Finland to the USSR in the secret portions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and that the poor performance of the Red Army convinced Hitler than invading the USSR would be easy, so encouraging him into possibly his greatest misstep of the entire war: the invasion of the USSR in Operation Barbarossa.

Fun fact: this is the only time a democracy has declared war on a democracy, when Britain declared war on Finland to help their Soviet ally. The Finns were made to pay reparations to Russia, and cede certain territories to Finland. There is an unattributed quote often given to various Soviets of the time that the Russians got just enough territory to bury their dead. Whether accurate or not, it is a grim reflection of the conflict that the quote has gained so much currency.

Finnish election results 1995

Finnish election results 1995

Nonetheless Finland remained a democratic, independent, state, an impressive feat given what occurred along the border with the Soviets elsewhere. Post-war Finland lived under the Shadow of the USSR, however. The country was officially neutral, but there is reason to argue that, in reality, it behaved as a sort of Yugoslavia of the north, a democratic capitalist country in the Soviet sphere of influence, as can be seen by the Helsinki Accords, a major Soviet diplomatic initiative of the 1970s.

Finland had to be very careful not to appear too pro-American or pro-Soviet. The country came to be dominated by a four party of system of sorts. There were the two socialist parties, the SDP, and the Finnish People’s Democratic League (SKDL), officially a broad alliance of leftist elements, but in reality a front organisation for the Communists. Then there was the non-socialist parties, the Finnish Agrarians, which later came to be known as the Centre Party (KESK), and the National Coalition Party (KOK) a broadly right-of-centre party. The KOK was (and still is) extremely pro-American and pro-European, advocating joining NATO, whereas the SKDL was clearly extremely pro-Soviet. Therefore, in reality, these two parties were kept out of government as much as possible, though KOK certainly made appearances at the cabinet table even early on. SKDL became one of the few Communist parties to ever win a free and fair election outright in 1958, which result in a three party coalition of the other three.  Finnish politics was very unstable during the early post-war period, with cabinets continually forming and being re-formed, with all sorts of strange and wonderful combinations. Politics began to stabilise later, especially as the Cold War came to a close and the SDKL weakened enough that bringing it into cabinet didn’t cause a crisis. KOK became less rabid in its pro-Americanism, and so the two parties became acceptable coalition partners. The core of the party system remained in KESK, which acted as a hinge the other parties rotated around. By the 1980s, however, things had calmed enough and both the SDP and KOK have become so fed up of the KESK that they formed a coalition together. When the Cold War ended it was the final nail in the coffin for the SDKL and it reformed as the Left Alliance (VAS): a democratic socialist party to the left of the SDP. Its vote collapsed and the four party system became a three party one.

2007 Finnish election results

2007 Finnish election results

The drop in the SDKL’s support had started long-previously, and in fact the SDP had been the largest party in every parliamentary election from 1966 onwards (albeit in a system where ‘largest party’ generally meant ‘Just over ¼ of the seats’). The party had also held the powerful Presidency since 1982 (and still does to this day). With the end  of the Cold War it was thrown into brief confusion like other socialistic parties across Europe, and it lost the 1991 election to KESK. It quickly re-orientated by adopting third way ideology, however, and launched itself into the 1995 election where it got its best result since 1939 and formed a five-party rainbow coalition with KOK, the Left Alliance, the Green League and the Swedish People’s Party (an almost permanent member of the government) under SDP leader Paava Lipponen. In this alliance the SDP could clamp down on KESK’s hallowed, but expensive, agricultural subsidies and was also positioned as the centre of the cabinet.

For all this the centrist orientation of the cabinet and the close cooperation of the SDP and KOK for eight years essentially broke the party system. The consensual politics of the period led to the impression that ‘they’re all just the same’ and led to the first stirrings of support for True Finns. The SDP came second to KESK in 2003, and formed a coalition with them. It then came third in 2007 in a devastating result for the Finnish left as the SDP and VAS, together, experienced the worst result for the Finnish left in history as KOK rode a wave of support to coming within 1 seat of becoming the largest party. True Finns started with 1% of the vote in 1999, it gained slightly in 2003, and their leader, Timo Soini, got 3.4% in the Presidential election of 2006. This was followed by a 4.1% result in 2007. They were still restricted to the annuals of the minor parties, however until 2009 when they won 9.8% in the European Parliamentary election and Soini was elected as a MEP. For a long time everyone had thought that this year would be KOK’s – it had led in the polls pretty much consistently since the 2007 election, but the True Finns are challenging. A recent poll by Gallup had True Finns in second to KOK, though most show them in fourth.

True Finns rise is no doubt slightly affected by the fact that Finland has been fairly affected by the global financial crisis, and has relatively high unemployment, especially when compared to their Swedish and Danish brethren.

It should also be noted that while Finland is a Semi-Presidential democracy the trend the last twenty or thirty years has been towards a watering down of Presidential power with, for example, the Presidential veto removed in 2000. Parliament is, therefore, now much more powerful than it once was, though the Presidency retains power in foreign and defense policy. Presidential elections are an interesting show actually, as they are one of the few national contests I know of where the primary debates are about foreign policy.

Additionally, I should note Finland’s impressive record on gender equality in politics. As I mentioned it was the first place in Europe where women could vote, but Finland was also the first country in the worldto have women hold both the posts of elected head of government and state (the incumbent President, Tarja Halonen and the former PM Anneli Jaateenmaki). At the time of writing the President, the Prime Minister and the leader of the largest opposition party are all women, as are the leaders of the Green League and the Christian Democrats. The cabinet is majority female, with twelve women to eight men.

The Electoral System

Finnish political partiesThe electoral system in use is open-list PR using the d’Hondt method. There are 15 multi-member districts with MPs numbering from 1 (the autonomous island of Aland) to 35 (Uusimaa, the area surrounding Helsinki). Several districts have just 6 or 7 MPs while some have others are closer to 20. These constituencies mostly correspond to provincial boundaries, though a few provinces have been split. Unlike other party-list systems the Finnish system obliges the voter to vote for a candidate. Indeed, it is becoming evident that Finns tend to vote for ‘candidate before party’ in increasing numbers. This also means that parties tend to show a fairly clear factional divide as some SDP MPs, for example, are elected by people who want to vote for the most left-wing SDP candidate possible, and KOK has a great number of internal currents.

Parties can form electoral alliances or run alone. The seats are then topped up and alliances are assigned seats based on d’Hondt. Rather than being allocated by list, however, seats are assigned purely on the basis of which candidate within an alliance got the most votes. This system is controversial for two reasons. Firstly due to the large variation in district magnitude some constituencies have VERY high effective thresholds, something demonstrated in 2007 when the Green League’s leader, Tarja Cronberg, lost her seat in Northern Karelia despite getting 11.7% of the vote. Electoral alliances are also controversial because if a party is allied to a smaller party and has a lot of fairly popular candidates but the minor party has one very popular candidate then that candidate can get elected ahead of the major party’s candidates – as the system does not differentiate between parties within an alliance. Alliances are also made at the district level, throwing in an extra bunch of confusion. As such this system will undergo an overhaul for the next election, and electoral alliances be eliminated. For what its worth they have become so controversial that the major parties are not engaging in them this time.

Centre Party (KESK)

Finnish: Suomen Keskusta

Leader: Mari Kiviniemi (current Finnish PM)

Last election: 23.1%, 51 seats, largest party.

The Centre Party is, in a sense, Finland’s dominant party. While only sporadically the largest party, its place, as its name suggests, at the centre of the ideological spectrum makes it the hinge in the party system. It is only ever out of government on those rare occasions the SDP and the Conservatives decide they hate KESK more than each other. Its ideology is Nordic Agrarianism, and in a sense it is an exemplar of the ideology. Certainly it is the most successful Nordic Agrarian party. It is first and foremost attached to the rural way of life and in urban regions it is often seen as the party of expensive and wasteful rural subsidies. In line with the usual ideology of Nordic Agrarianism it is also highly decentralist, in a bid to take power away from the urban centre, something which extends into the Centre Party being the most Eurosceptic of the big three. Internationally it aligns itself with liberal parties, and the party programme does have some broad brush similarities to social liberalism, but the party has a conservative wing, though the more liberal wing is currently in the driving seat. It is probably easier to think of the Finnish party system as a triangle between urban left, urban right and rural centre than as a single left/right dimension. There is a saying in Finland that there is ”such a thing as ’extreme centrism’”.

While Finland was, for an exceptionally long time, a stridently rural society, the urban/rural cleavage has since declined and so the Centre Party has successful expanded its base to include a wide range of groups , such as small businessmen, and it probably has the most diverse voter base in Finland now. It has also gained a reputation for corruption (fueled by both its two premiers before Kiviniemi resigning for corruption related reasons) due to its long periods in government, and after nine years in power the strains are showing. Fortunately for it Mari Kiviniemi is a popular leader, and polls show her as the most popular PM candidate, much more popular than her party, but the outlook still doesn’t look good, and most polls show the party in second or third.

National Coalition Party (KOK)

Finnish: Kansallinen Kokoomus

Leader: Jyrki Katainen (Minister of Finance)

Last election: 22.3%, 50 seats

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, KOK is traditionally the weakest of Finland’s big three. While it never comes too far behind the first placed party it never seems to actually be the largest, and the party has only had one term with a PM, from 1987 to 1991. Even then the party was actually the junior partner in a coalition with the SDP, who had beaten it by a handful of seats.

The party is a broadly centre-right conservative beast with increasingly liberal elements to its ideology. Unlike other centre-right parties in Europe it is an urban party and Helsinki and the surrounding area is a party stronghold. As such it has a definite cosmopolitan streak. It supports gay marriage and shows multiculturalist and pro-immigration tendencies in some areas. The party is also well known for his extremely pro-European and pro-American views. Its support for the EU includes a strong support for EU bailouts and the Euro. The party also tends to support Finland’s entry into NATO though it tends to try to dress this up in fluffier language about a ’more European’ NATO these days. Don’t be fooled into thinking that KOK is just a right-wing liberal party in a conservative wrapper though. It is not beyond showing a starkly anti-Roma streak at times and it has the usual conservative love of the military, there is also a religious right faction and while the party does have a definite liberal wing it is quite broad and has all manner of centre-right individuals in it.

For a long time the story of this election was supposed to be the new era of KOK dominance as the party showed a small but discernable lead in pretty much all polls, after a strong rise starting from the 2006 Presidential election where the party’s candidate Sauli Niinisto ran the incumbent, the SDP’s Tarja Halonen, within 3 points in the second round, a considerable acheivement considering Halonen’s glowing approval ratings. The party then ran KESK within a seat of the top spot in 2007. That has been scuppered by True Finns rise, though KOK still leads in the polls, but winning an election when True Finns does so well may feel like a somewhat pyrrhic victory for the party. A small problem for the party is that the party’s most popular member, Sauli Niinisto, is not running this year, almost certainly to focus on a 2012 Presidential run. With Halonen term-limited Niinisto has to be the frontrunner. That said Katainen and foreign minister Alexander Stubb are also popular, prominent figures.

Social Democratic Party (SDP)

Finnish: Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue

Leader: Jutta Urplainen

Last election: 21.4%, 45 seats

The SDP is your typical European social democratic party that was once markedly left-of-centre, moved radically to the centre post-cold war and then completely lost its ideological bearings. After a long time in power the party just seems directionless and Urpalinen is generally considered to have not been a very effective leader. Most polls show it haemorrhaging seats to the True Finns at this point, and wrestling with KESK for second place. If it secures second place then that is a success, of sorts, for the party.Compared to its Nordic cousins the SDP is notably less left-leaning.

Left Alliance (VAS)

Finnish: Vasemmistoliittoí

 Leader: Paavo Arhinmaki

Last election: 8.8%, 17 seats

The successor of the SDKL, VAS is the heir to the Finnish far-left tradition. A democratic socialist party it tries to paint itself as a modern eco-socialist grouping but it is mostly seen as a party of worn out crusty old commies nostalgic for the SDKL – and smelly young hippies. It has lost about a percentage point off its vote in every election since 1995. Sometimes it is suggested that the party merge into the SDP, and VAS supported Talonen for the Presidency straight off the bat in 2006.

Green League (VIHR)

Finnish: Vihreä liitto

Leader: Anni Sinnemaki (currently Minister of Labour)

Last election: 8.5%, 15 seats

Not left-wing, not right-wing, but forward:  that’s the refrain usually used by VIHR. In reality their members and candidates are dotted all over the political spectrum. On the right they are usually seen as smelly hippies, on the left as the national parks division of KOK. In reality the party leans more to the left than the right, but is currently in the centre-right government. It is not actually needed for a majority (together KESK and KOK have 101/200 seats) but KESK wanted the party in in order to big up its own environmentalist credentials. For accepting this it is seen as having sold out by many on the left. It is also accused of simultaeneously attempting to be in government and opposition by, for example, voting against government policy on nuclear reactors but not leaving the government over it. The party is polling slightly up from 2007, however, probably a result of the fact that it is seen as the most anti-True Finns party. Both parties have said that being in coalition together would be impossible.

Christian Democrats (KD)

Finnish: Kristillisdemokraatit

Leader: Paivi Rasanen

Last election: 4.9%, 7 seats

In common with Christian Democratic parties across the Nordic region the Christian Democrats were formed in the 1960s during the debates over religious schools of the period, in the Finnish case their formation was also motivated by the march of an explicitly atheist dogma in Communism. They were formed as a splinter from KOK, and the party is not based in Catholicism (as with most Christian Democratic parties) or indeed in the mainstream Lutheran brand of Protestantism, but in the ‘Free Churches’. The party has a track record of gaining representation through electoral alliances and in recent years they have formed alliances with KOK, KESK and the True Finns. They are increasingly seen as obsessed with gays and abortion, however, and a veteran MP of theirs, Bjarne Kallis, is standing down at this election. He incisively commented that when social inequality is on the rise, unemployment is rife and people feel insecure, you shouldn’t be going over the homosexuals. They has also had the effect of making them an unpleasant choice of coalition partner for their traditional partners in KOK and KESK. They might work well with True Finns though.

Swedish People’s Party of Finland (SFP)

Swedish: Svenska folkpartiet i Finland

Leader: Stefan Wallin (Minister for Culture and Sport)

Last election:  4.5%, 9 seats

The SFP has been a presence in the Finnish parliament since the very first election in 1907. As I mentioned earlier Swedish-speaking Finns are a decently sized minority in the country and there are Swedish-speaking schools, and services, the country is essentially bilingual in many places. The SFP exists to protect the rights of the Swedish-speaking minority. It claims to be a liberal party as well as a Swedish language party, and it has an impressive record in government. This is for several reasons. Firstly to make sure the concerns of Swedish-speaking Finns are represented at the cabinet table, secondly because the party is seen by most politicians as a dependable partner in government who will provide high quality ministers who won’t complain as long as bi-linguality is protected.

The fact that the party got 4.5% of the vote when only 5.5% of Finns currently speak Swedish as a first language also somewhat demonstrates its hegemony within that community. The party also benefits from the Swedish electoral system which benefits parties with uneven support – the party’s support is primarily based along the Swedish speaking coasts, though there are Finns who vote for it purely on the basis of its liberalism: as Finland has no ’true’ liberal party. The party’s vote has been in slow but constant decline since its creation, but this is in line with the general decline of Swedish in Finland. The special status of Swedish in Finland has caused much tension over the years and some of this tension has now found expression in True Finns.

And now, last, but not least:

True Finns (PS)

Finnish: Perussuomalaiset

Leader: Timo Soini

Last election: 4.1%, 6 seats

PS  are the successor of the Finnish Rural Party (SMP). The SMP was formed from a split in KESK in 1959 and was the personal vehicle of Veikko Vennamo. I said in my KESK summary that Finns say there is such a thing as ’extreme centre’, if that is true, then the SMP was it. The party reached its height in 1983, with 17 seats, at which point it entered government. Its populist, anti-establishment credo could not survive government, however, nor could it deal with losing Vennamo’s charismatic leadership and it began to collapse, by 1995 it was down to 1 MP. PS was created from its ashes and it came to be led by Timo Soini, a pupil and disciple of Vennamo.

PS is a populist party. It is anti-establishment, it is anti-neoliberalism, it is anti-European, most of all it is anti-consensual politics. It is, as has been put by many, the party of the antis. It is partially fueled by anti-Swedish language and anti-immigration concerns too, though compared to similar right-wing populist parties it is not quite as anti-immigrant, though there is a clear divide here. Soini tends to concentrate his anger on the EU, which goes down far better in rural areas. In cities, however, PS politicians tend to talk more about immigration. I have heard accusations from Finns online that parts of the party have links to neo-fascist organisations but I have not seen these accusations verified by news sources and most of these Finns are very left-leaning (mostly VAS and SDP supporters). Soini himself is a Catholic, a rare thing in Finland, and combines his populism with Christian rhetoric. The PS economic policy is generally perceived as being slightly left-leaning, though in the words of political scientist David Arter its policy is not so much socialist as Christian social.

The party has many charismatic figures, not least amongst them Soini himself, but the party has a selection of eccentric candidates. The party vilifies MPs for breaking promises and voting with their parties, and their eccentric oddball candidates bring an extra appeal, all of their own. My favourite PS candidate is Kari Tykklainen, a Finnish scultor, comedian and star of youtube. Or, as the Finns I have talked to put it, he is a bear man:

A former prominent MP was Tony Halme, a former Wrestler who appeared on the Finnish version of Gladiators, and in the WWF, who passed away in 2010. Another prominent MP is Veltto Virtanen, a musician known for his beret. The trouble is all these candidates are very much individuals and the party does not speak with one voice. In many ways it is less a party and more an ecletic group of populist independents . The party looks like it may find it difficult to govern, as the party’s MPs are such big personalities who are liable to butt heads and its credo is almost entirely about what its against rather than what it’s for. In other words, it doesn’t appear to be a coherent political force, which is fine in opposition, but in government rather less fine.

After reaching a high in polls last month it is now losing support again, and looks likely to get an impressive fourth place. That said, my suspicion is that the polls may be underestimating PS, both because experience in other European countries has taught me that respondents do not like to say they are voting for right-wing populists, but also because voters may prefer, say, the SDP, as a party, but want to be able to tell their grandkids about that time that they voted for a bear man.

The parties support is your usual right-wing populist mix. Mostly male, mostly poorly educated, a mixture of the young and the old, and prior affliations to all three of the main three parties, as well as a bit of support from VAS and the KD, but overwhelming support from former abstainers.

Additionally there is one MP from the Aland constituency. Aland’s party system is completely different to Finland’s, but the current MP was elected by an electoral alliance of all parties bar the local Social Democrats. Aland’s MP typically sits in the SFP’s group.

Government Formation

After an election the President invites the leader of the largest party to form a coalition. Generally, he or she will become PM. The coalition formation process is generally very much in their hands as long as one of the other big three parties is happy to join it in government and they have a large degree of influence over the entry of the smaller parties into government.

Based on current polls it will be very difficult to form a coalition without PS. The SDP’s Urplainen has suggested forming anti-PS grand coalition of the big three post-election. This frankly strikes me as desperate and unlikely, not to mention counter-productive. PS’s rise is fueled by Finland’s cosy consensual politics, a government of the big three would represent that beyond anything else.

That said, it is difficult to see it in power with either the SDP or KOK, both having their strongly cosmopolitan tendencies. In particular KOK’s extremely pro-European tendencies set it up to seriously butt heads with PS. KESK will form a government with almost anyone and at least shares True Finn’s rural, and anti-European tendencies. That said, there remains a strong possibility that PS’s entry into government will be a disaster, that its incoherent mix of big populist personalities and platforms will destroy it from within. A party that is fueled by anti-establishment feelings will often find trouble when it is forced to compromise with that very same establishment. This is not without precedent, see: the PS’s predecessor party, the List Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, or the Freedom Party of Austria. Indeed, the set-up of True Finns and its focus on personalities makes this particularly likely. However, a short-lived, squabbling government is not exactly what Finland needs right now, nor is it likely to impress the EU or international creditors who desperately want the go ahead from Finland for a Portuguese bail-out.

SFP’s traditional place at the cabinet table is liable to be under threat if PS is involved – it is impossible to see how a party that makes so much out of opposing mandatory Swedish language lessons at school and so forth can hook up with the representative of Swedish language issues. VIHR and PS are also mutually exclusive. If PS is going to come into government, however, the larger parties will want another party so that there are enough MPs to pass legislation if the True Finns start to implode in a fiery rain of destruction. Bringing more parties into government also means reducing the PS allocation at the cabinet table. The best candidate for this, in my opinion, is the Christian Democrats. Therefore my bet, overall, is for a KOK-KESK-PS-KD coalition government. I may be proved totally wrong, but we shall see  later on today.

Mario Vargas Llosa vs the giant magical guinea pig

April 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hello again, sorry for not writing much. It has been a busy week. It has also been a fascinating week of elections but, I’m afraid this is going to be a somewhat cursory review as time is pressing. Fortunately some really good stuff has been written about most of these elections so I can point you at that. I’m going to do results first, then previews.

First up, if you remember, was Benin. This is the most straightforward at they didn’t happen. Following much debate about preparation and process the polls have been pushed back to April 30th.

Next up – Djibouti. To nobody’s surprise Gulleh won by 80% on a 75% turnout. Allegedly. No details yet on the parliamentary polls but in a one party state they scarcely matter.

Now to some much more interesting elections. Nigeria could yet be the election of the year. I don’t have time to go into it as fully as I’d like but I urge you to peruse Think Africa Press’s mini site in detail. Here are the headlines:

  • The PDP suffered there worst result in modern times – suggesting that these elections were the freest and fairest in some time – arguably ever. However they are still on course for an outright majority in parliament.
  • However their poor showing could be a worry to presidential candidate Goodluck Jonathan (the first round election is tomorrow). To avoid a second round, Jonathan needs not only 50% overall but at least 25% in at least two thirds of states. Whilst the PDP just about managed that, Jonathan is personally unpopular in the north – who feel that a northerner should have been the Presidential candidate this time.
  • Nevertheless, hopes for an upset opposition Presidential victory were dealt a severe blow when the muted alliance between the ACN and the CPC appeared to fall apart. Neither really had the breadth of support to take on Jonathan alone and the collapse of the alliance means that only a second round would make an opposition victory possible.
  • For me the biggest story of the campaign was the collapse of the ANPP. The ANPP used to be the only real opposition party of any size, and it was expected that any reduction in support for the PDP would benefit them. However, as with the Arab Spring, it appears that in Nigeria hard-line Islamic conservatism is quite popular when it is the only thing opposing a severe autocrat – but give the people a genuine choice and they’d rather go for a secular liberal party. That appears to be what happened here, and it was the ACN (in the south) and the CPC (in the north) that picked up most of the seats the PDP lost. The ANPP collapsed to a humiliating fourth place.

Finally, but certainly not least, Peru. Another fascinating election which I don’t have time to go into detail on, but I would urge you to read World Election’s comprehensive piece on it.

The headlines are that, after a very open Presidential election, we are set for a Humala (left wing Amerindian nationalist) vs Fujimori (right wing Peruvian nationalist) run off. As World Elections analyse in detail, this is somewhat hard to predict as these are the two most polarizing and alienating of the candidates – many Peruvians will consider it a Hobson’s choice. Moreover, whilst the candidates have radically different politics, both appeal to the same group – the rural poor – and urban and middle class people do feel somewhat distanced from the process. Parliamentary election results followed the Presidential pattern – with the APRA predictably falling apart due to their not fielding of a Presidential candidate and their general train wreck of a last five years.

People have reacted in various ways to this. Mario Vargas Llosa has described the choice as equivalent to the choice between “AIDS and terminal cancer”. Whilst this sums up the views of many it is somewhat undermined by the fact that Mario Vargas Llosa says this kind of thing all the time. If you asked Mario Vargas Llosa if he’d rather have the chicken or the fish he’d probably tell you the choice was equivalent to the choice between AIDS and terminal cancer. Mario Vargas Llosa is a strange and bitter man.

The Peruvian Chica Bank have taken a different approach. They have launched an advertising campaign aimed around alleviating the stress and worry surrounding the elections. The tag line is “Preocuparte no debes” (worrying, you shouldn’t). Here it is:


Tomorrow is round one of the Nigerian Presidential elections. As mentioned above it is going to be a doozy.

Then on Sunday we have Finland. Another doozy, Chris Terry from Britain Votes will be writing a piece shortly but in the meantime the main point is that it is a very open election, held under PR, and as a result lots of parties have the ability to make an impact.

One party that might benefit are the slightly odd euro-skeptic rural populist True Finns. They normally get about 4% of the vote but are currently polling at around 15%.  They are taking advantage of the highly open nature of Finnish PR to win seats by standing eccentric and charismatic personalities as candidates. Set to be True Finn MPs (and in some cases already serving) are a pro wrestler, a musician famous for his beret, and this man:

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