Saturday, 03 Jun, 2023


Finland, having cleared last NATO hurdle, heads to elections

International Desk |
Update: 2023-04-01 13:29:08
Finland, having cleared last NATO hurdle, heads to elections [photo collected]

Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, heads to the polls on Sunday to elect a new government as it prepares to join NATO.

On Thursday, Turkey ratified the Nordic nation’s membership – the last of the alliance’s 30 members to do so.

Will Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democratic Party, which started the membership process last year, take the country of 5.5 million people into the world’s largest military alliance?

And is Marin still as popular as she was in 2019 when she became the world’s youngest leader at 34?

Here’s what you should know:

How is the government formed?
Thousands of candidates from 22 political parties are vying for 200 seats in Finland’s one-chamber parliament, the Eduskunta.

Four groups tend to dominate elections: the Social Democrats, Centre Party, National Coalition Party and Finns Party.

Here is where eight parties lie on the political spectrum:

Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) – Marin’s centre-left party, now the largest in parliament.
Centre Party (KESK) – Finland’s fourth-largest party with centrist policies.
National Coalition Party (KOK) – The main opposition group centre-right party, also described as conservative-liberal.
Finns Party (PS) – Right-wing populists seeking cuts to immigration.
Left Alliance (VAS) – Left-wing party that has faced divisions over Finland’s NATO membership.
Green League (VIHR) – Environmentalists that prioritise welfare and equality.
Swedish People’s Party of Finland (RKP) – Party representing the minority of Swedish speakers in Finland.
Christian Democrats (KD) – Party supporting “Christian values”.
The latest opinion poll published by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat showed the three biggest parties – the National Coalition, Social Democrats and Finns Party – neck and neck.

The party that wins the most seats may form the next government.

To do so, it needs to form a coalition with other parties and secure at least 101 seats. The leader of the winning party becomes prime minister.

Marin’s government is a coalition made up of her Social Democrats, the Centre Party, Green League, Left Alliance and Swedish People’s Party.

She faces stiff competition, especially from Petteri Orpo from the National Coalition and the Finns Party’s Riikka Purra.

During Marin’s tenure, she has become known for her straightforward politics, modern feminist ideals and cool persona. Last year, she was widely criticised by some members of the opposition after a video of her partying with her friends went viral on social media.

But Helsinki voter Emma Holopainen told Al Jazeera that the scandal will not harm Marin’s chances.

“A lot of the critiques towards her have been about her personal life and choices and not directly related to her leadership skills,” she said.

Marianna, a 27-year-old, shared a similar view.

“For the first time ever,” she said, “people are talking about ‘voting tactically’ for the Social Democrats as they want Sanna Marin to continue being prime minister although they would normally vote for a different party, such as the Greens.

“The SDP is behind the KOK by a small margin in the polls and people would much rather see Marin continue as the prime minister.”

On election day, Finns traditionally enjoy a coffee and sweet bun called “pulla” after they vote.

“On Instagram, there was also a post circulating, explaining how you can tell what party someone votes for by the pulla – cinnamon bun – they have after voting,” Marianna said.

What do Finns think of NATO?
According to Theodora Helimäki, a doctoral candidate studying voting behaviour at the University of Helsinki, joining NATO is something all parties agree on.

“Historically, joining NATO prior to Russia’s war in Ukraine was a divisive topic for some people in the country,” Holopainen said. “NATO is quite popular now, and more people are in favour of it.”

A poll by the broadcasting company YLE in May showed that 76 percent of Finns were in favour of joining NATO.

The Left Party, once a staunch opponent of Finland’s entry into NATO, now backs membership as a defensive move.

According to local media, the war in Ukraine was one of the main reasons behind this sharp shift among leftists.

Marianna told Al Jazeera that she supports joining NATO.

“Before February 24, 2022, if any left-wing young person was asked about Finland joining NATO, the response would have been negative,” she said, referring to the date of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“We wanted to remain unaligned. We didn’t want to spend our money on defence or send our men to train with the alliance.

“But there’s a lot of collective historical trauma with Russia, which we inherited from our grandparents’ generation, and we have realised that there’s only one option now, which is to join NATO.”

Source: Al Jazeera 

BDST: 1328 HRS, APR 01, 2023

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