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article imageFive things to know about Finland's government crisis

By AFP     Jun 13, 2017 in Politics

Finland averted a government crisis on Tuesday after the prime minister, who had been due to submit his government's resignation, said his coalition would carry on with a new populist faction that emerged at the last minute.

Here are five things to know about the turmoil in Finnish politics:

- What happened? -

Prime Minister Juha Sipila ousted the anti-immigration Finns Party from the coalition on Monday, after it elected a hardliner convicted of hate speech as its leader. But on Tuesday the Finns split in two, with Sipila welcoming the more moderate faction to stay on in his government.

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- Coalitions are a habit -

Politics have been shaped by a succession of coalitions in Finland, which has a strong tradition of consensus. A proportional system of voting and the nine parties currently represented in parliament have prevented the formation of a one-party government.

Coalitions of the kind seen in Finland are rare elsewhere. In 2011 for example, a six-party "rainbow" coalition, dominated by the Conservatives and the Social Democrats, was formed.

- Who are the Finns Party? -

The eurosceptic, nationalist and anti-immigration party was co-founded in 1995 by Timo Soini. He took over as its leader in 1997, a position he held for 20 years.

The party won four percent of votes in the 2007 legislative elections but soared to third place in the 2011 elections with 19 percent. But the Finns Party refused at the time to enter the government, which it deemed too pro-European.

In the 2015 elections, it became the second-largest party with 17.7 percent of votes and joined a coalition with the Centre party and the conservative National Coalition Party (NCP).

On Saturday, Finns Party members elected Jussi Halla-aho as their new leader after Soini stepped down. A eurosceptic and anti-immigration hardliner, the 46-year-old Halla-aho has been convicted of hate speech for a blog post in 2008.

The Finns Party has its strongest support in Finland's working class, mainly in suburban areas and smaller cities. The party's name in Finnish, which translates literally as "True Finns", refers to supporters' deep attachment to their country's traditional values and rural society.

- Why the coalition collapsed -

Being a member of the coalition took a toll on the Finns Party, as it was forced to make concessions on key issues in its programme, such as European Union affairs, immigration and social welfare.

The party entered government in 2015 after winning 17.7 percent of votes. But the party has seen its support tumble to around nine percent, according to recent opinion polls. Ultra-nationalist Halla-aho's argument that the party has been tainted by mainstream politics appeared to appeal to party members, who elected him by a broad majority on Saturday.

On Monday, the Centre and NCP ousted the Finns Party, saying they could not collaborate with the party under Halla-aho's leadership due to divergent values.

Jussi Halla-aho was elected leader of the Finns Party on Saturday. The 46-year-old eurosceptic and a...
Jussi Halla-aho was elected leader of the Finns Party on Saturday. The 46-year-old eurosceptic and anti-immigration hardliner was convicted of hate speech for a blog post in 2008
Jussi Nukari, Lehtikuva/AFP/File

The Finns on Tuesday split in two, when 20 of its 37 MPs broke away to form a more moderate faction called New Alternative.

Instead of submitting his government's resignation, Sipila said Tuesday his coalition would carry on with New Alternative, and the government programme would remain unchanged. The five Finns Party members currently serving in the government have all joined New Alternative, including Soini, who is foreign minister.

- Is immigration important? -

For the Finns Party, immigration threatens employment and the social welfare system. Finland, a country of 5.4 million people, received some 32,000 asylum applications in 2015.

The 245,000 foreigners with a residency permit make up 4.5 percent of the population. Most of them are European, including Estonians (52,000) and Russians (31,000).

This is followed by nearly 10,000 Iraqis, many of whom have sought asylum in recent years but whose applications are often rejected (55 percent were rejected in 2016).

Finland will need immigration as its low birth rate and rapidly ageing population will bring greater economic and social challenges.

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