The current situation of the Left in Finland has been characterised by the recent experiment of the Left in government. Dubbed the ”six-pack”, the government of 2011-2014 consisted of a wide range of parties with absolutely no political kinship. While the Finnish political system has always been characterised by ideologically diverse coalition governments, the ”six-pack” government was exceptional even by Finnish standards.
Comprising of both the Left and conservatives, the coalition formation caused the site of political disputes to be within the government, rather than between the government and opposition.
After three years in the government, the Left Alliance withdrew just two months before the European election as a protest to planned large and socially highly unjust cuts to public spending.
Participation in the government was a subject of fierce debates within the party for the whole duration of this political experiment, reflecting intra-party strategical disagreements. Quite apparently, the strategy of involvement in the government implied both humiliating political defeats, and genuine political changes which would not have been achieved without the party’s presence in the government. For instance, the income disparities in Finland decreased due to the Left’s influence on government policy, having before 2012 increased for almost two decades.
On the defeat side, the Left had to compromise, among other policy fields, on euro-policy. While the Left Alliance has as a party always been in strong opposition to the current austerity policy, its membership in the government implementing this policy is a considerable weakness in credibly communicating this party position. The fact that the party withdrew from the government no more than two months prior to the European election, is of little help.
In any case, the Left Alliance has managed to create a strong list of candidates and a thorough political programme for the elections. It presents itself as the only clear alternative to the current austerity policy (besides of course the communist party, which has no real possibility of getting an MEP). Strategically, the election is of great importance to the party. In the europarliament elections of 2009, the Left Alliance achieved only about 6% of the vote, clearly below its usual support, and by a narrow margin lost its presence in the europarliament.
The lack of presence at the europarliament has been a considerable handicap for the party, and it now very seriously strives to at least gain back the one seat. Generally, in addition to the history of participation in the government, the party’s challenge remains to be getting its supporters to vote. The electoral turnout in the euro-elections is considerably lower than in any other national or local elections, and this is reflected especially in the Left’s electoral success.
Generally the electoral result in Finland is unlikely to undergo major changes. Recently, the right-wing populist True Finns party has been the biggest question mark in Finnish politics. Having got up to almost 20 per cent of the vote in latest elections, the party might increase its support from the 10% support of 2009, but a considerable increase is unlikely without the candidacy of the party chairman.
Other question marks involve, whether the expectionally low support rates for the social democrats in latest opinion polls will materialise in the election results; whether the Greens can keep their 2 seats, the outcome of unexceptionally good results in 2009; and whether the Swedish people’s party will loose their MEP, again an outcome of an exceptionally good result in previous elections. Some uncertainty prevails because of the likely low electoral turnout, which makes opinion polling unreliable.
Yet in the political debates, there seems to be increased interest in euro-politics. This is because of the ongoing economic crisis which increasingly affects also Finland. The popular discourse has been quite nationalist, evolving around questions like why should Finnish taxpayers support the Southern European crisis countries. Yet slowly the tide seems to be turning, and the idea of solidarity and the true reasons between the eurocrisis have become perhaps somewhat easier to communicate to the general public.
An additional issue increasing interest to the European situation has been the role (and now the MEP candidacy) of commissar Olli Rehn, a man with considerable personal responsibility for the suffering in the crisis countries. The fact that Rehn has to defend his position in Finnish electoral debates, is necessarily an element adding to the intensity of these debates.
The main strategical aim of the Left is to present austerity and stimulus as clear economic policy alternatives. Other main themes of the Left have been transparency, redefition of the ECB mandate, closing tax havens, European level minimum wages, and strict limits to CO2 emissions.