Timo Soini. Image: CTBT/CC BY-SA-2.0
Timo Soini’s departure – recipe for dealing with populism?
"Thanks for these years" with these words the Finnish minister Timo Soini announced his departure from national politics on his blog last Tuesday. The 56-year-old politician, often dubbed a right-wing populist, will not run in the April 14 parliamentary elections. April in the parliamentary elections. On Friday, the government under Juha Sipila resigned because it could not get its social and healthcare package through parliament.
In the case of Soini, on the other hand, it was a question of probably no longer being able to enter parliament. His party, the "Blue future", is predicted in polls to win just over one percent of the vote.
He wanted to conquer a conservative Finland, prevent modern customs such as gay marriage and help honest Finnish workers earn a decent living again. Perhaps it is comforting to him, then, that his political failure is typically Finnish "typically Finnish" is: In the Scandinavian country, populists are included in the government if they get enough votes, where they are then disenchanted by realpolitik. And here the question can be raised whether this could not also be a recipe for other populist movements.
The Populism Professional
Soini was never a real nationalist, there was always something whimsical about him. Thanks to his backswept ’50s hairstyle, corpulent body in an ill-fitting suit, and cowboy boots (a reminiscence of his native Sudwest Finland), he was the most colorful figure the country’s northern political landscape had to offer. The obese family man acted as a guardian of a "idealized Finland, which never really existed", as the Grunen politician Pekka Haavisto once told the author of these lines.
A populism professional by training, he graduated as a political scientist uber "Populism", he was in 1995 co-founder of the "True Finns", a successor organization of the anti-Soviet "Peasant Party". For a long time his formation remained unnoticed, until before the 2011 elections a corruption affair of the ruling center party shook Finland and Soini was able to stir up sentiment against the planned EU aid package for Portugal. The "True Finns" reached 19.1 percent, after which members repeatedly made racist remarks that caused scandals. But even Soini at that time still called the EU "a rich Soviet Union" – was a shock to many European observers who thought of Finland as a progressive country.
Since Soini did not depart from his positions, at first no coalition with his party came about, five years later, center leader Juha Sipila was ready to work with the "True Finns" together with the conservative "National collection" to form a coalition.
Aubenminister on the wrong track
Soini became aubenminister in May 2015, a position in which he was unable to implement his domestic policy ideas on social change in Finland. During the refugee crisis in the fall of 2015, he could not get his way with a radical limit on the admission of asylum-seekers, nor with his demand that his country admit only Christians. His party plummeted in the polls. Then, in 2017, when Soini became chair of the "True Finns" When Soini gave up his party to fellow party member Jussi Halla-aho, who was agitating against foreigners, Soini split from the party he had founded and established the "Blue future", to save his office.
Soini remained stubborn in matters of faith, however; on a visit to Ireland, he adopted the Catholic denomination, an exception in Lutheran Finland with an Orthodox minority. In 2017, for example, he used a visit to Canada to walk in an anti-abortion demonstration in Ottawa, criticized the abortion referendum in Ireland, or celebrated a failed liberalization of abortion in Argentina in 2018.
Since Finland, like Sweden, has officially "feminist aubenpolitik" there have been several attempts by opposition and coalition politicians to bring the "Soini fallen out of time" from office. His shrinking followers were more interested in the everyday problems that he could not solve as a politician. As "knight of the sad figure" the high-circulation newspaper "Helsingin Sanomat" then as a farewell.
Soini’s decline is not the first failure of a radical movement; in the 1966 elections, a socialist party was integrated into a multiparty government; in 1983, the process organization of Soini’s party, the "Farmers’ Party", which could not do anything about the unemployment rates and failed.
Failure in government office
Soini was thus integrated into an apparatus, seemed to be overburdened with the office and compromised herself with Catholic ies that are not on the agenda in Finland. He was forced to act against the spirits he had summoned and resign from his party and now remains outside parliament. "No one will miss him", according to the Swedish-language magazine, which is not entirely neutral on this ie "Huvudstadbladet", Finally, Soini wanted to curb the influence of the Swedish minority.
As a tribune of the people he is now finished. Whether he will take part in the European elections, he loves openly. Significant is also his statement "So What?" on the resignation of the government due to the failed social policy on his blog. Not a word is said about the fate of the little people and the open question of improved health care, only about the media.
Other established parties shy away from cooperation with populists, as in Germany and Sweden. But it might be worth a try at the local level – the tendency to split within such a party is thus allowed to occur more quickly than in the responsibility-free opposition.