Something has been nagging at me since the True Finns’ election success on Sunday. I think it’s because I am struggling to answer this question: why must True Finns be brought into a governing coalition?
This question was brought into focus in a Twitter discussion with Mia Välimäki:
The essential gist is: True Finns ‘won’, the others (particularly the Centre Party) ‘lost’, and because Finland has a tradition of broad based coalitions the True Finns should of course be brought into the government. I’ll call this the winners criterion.
This is not too dissimilar to the debate last year in the UK – Labour ‘lost’, the Tories had ‘won’, and a Lab-Lib coalition would look like a government of losers, hence it was perceived to be a non-starter.
But this is surely an excessively media-centric way of looking at coalition building, for there are at least two other factors that should be brought into consideration, namely the likelihood of being able to form a stable government (stability criterion), and – most important of all – how much of their party programmes the coalition parties are going to be able to carry out (programme criterion). How this relates to Finland is summed up thus by Taneli Heikka:
Finns are used to seeing political ideologies as something practical and rhetorical, tools that can be changed or abandoned after the election. [...] If consensus prevails, we will have a majority coalition government with the National Coalition Party, True Finns and Social Democrats. Political differences are watered down, and the electorate will be betrayed.
If the Finnish coalition is to be composed of Kokoomus (National Coalition Party), Social Democrats and True Finns, it meets only the winners criterion (although Kokoomus and Social Democrats actually lost seats!) However, with Kokoomus and the Social Democrats close on many issues, True Finns would have a hard time getting much of their policy programme adopted by the coalition, and how stable would such a government be?
Compare this to a possible coalition of Kokoomus, Social Democrats and Centre Party. This fails on the winners criterion, as all parties lost seats (and Centre lost 16 seats and vote share dropped by more than 7%), but would surely be better placed to form a stable government, and to allow all three parties to put in place large parts of their party programmes. Of course Mari Kiviniemi has already ruled out such a coalition… as Centre ‘lost’. The 2008 Austrian election produced a result like this, with SPÖ and ÖVP (both ‘losers’) forming a grand coalition after the election.
There are numerous problems with either option, not least in terms of media portrayal of what happens. If the True Finns are in, it’s possible to imagine how the press will berate other parties for neutering their influence. If True Finns are out, the press will bemoan their exclusion. Whichever way these are interesting times for Finnish politics, and the art of coalition building.