By Enrique Tessieri
Does the defeat of two anti-EU politicians, Center Party’s Paavo Väyrynen and Timo Soini of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) party, on Sunday suggest a shift from last year’s parliamentary election that was fueled by anti-EU and anti-immigration sentiment? Even if the municipal election in October will offer us a good answer to that question, yesterday’s election result does show a major shift.
Even if veteran politician Väyrynen lost a neck-and-neck race to Pekka Haavisto of the Green Party for second spot, his good showing must be a source of concern for the PS, which relied heavily in April on protest votes from the Center Party.
Sunday’s election result shows as well that voters are losing interest in the PS’ anti-EU and anti-immigration stand. Soini’s poor showing (9.4%) and Väyrynen’s better showing (17.5%) confirm the latter.
A worst-case scenario would have been Soini clinching second place and giving Niinistö a run for his money in the runoff on February 5. Fortunately that did not happen.
For many Finnish voters, especially those with immigrant backgrounds and visible minorities, yesterday’s election result was a long-overdue breath of fresh political oxygen after constantly reading in the media scandals by the PS that exposed the racism, homophobia and anti-democratic credentials of some of their MPs.
Let’s not forget as well the hacked membership directory of the neo-Nazi Suomen Kansalinen Vastarinta, which revealed two PS members on such lists and who are still members of the party.
How long can an ideologically convoluted political party like the PS maintain voter interest in their anti-EU, anti-immigration and pro-conservative views?
A lot of water will have to run under the bridge before the next big test for Soini’s party will be weighed in the municipal election of October 28.
If the last nine months are anything to go by, there is a good chance that the PS’ momentum may suffer its biggest blow yet this coming fall.