Finland is rarely covered here which may be a bit odd given that the Finnish political system in general and party system in particular tended to diverge from those of the other Nordic countries. Finland, obviously, is a semi-presidential system even if it during the last two decades has moved towards a situation where the president just like the Scandinavian monarchs is mostly a figurehead while real political power is concentrated in the hands of parliament and government. The days of Paasikivi, Kekkonen and Koivisto are long gone. But then again, the Soviet Union also ceased to be a long time ago making the need to balance between the West and the East less urgent.
Whereas the Social Democrats emerged as the dominant party in the Scandinavian countries from the 1920s onward, Finland always had a more fragmented party system with the Social Democrats, the Centre Party and the Conservatives competing for the top spot and the Social Democrats facing fierce competition from the Communist Party (under different names). As the political scientist Giovanni Sartori pointed out, the Finnish party system of the post-war era reminded more of those of Italy, the French fourth republic and Weimar Germany. Unlike those, however, Finnish democracy and the Finnish constitution proved to be remarkably stable.
In terms of government formation, Finland also deviated from the Nordic norm, with a bewildering array of coalitions. The past ten years have seen the Centre Party, the Social Democrats and the Conservatives playing a game of ever-changing ministerial chairs and nobody in Finland are surprised over finding the Green Party in the same government as the Conservatives. Here, Finland looks more like the Netherlands with its revolving coalitions.
Maybe the consensual style in Finnish politics is one reason why turn-out is usually lower than in the rest of the Nordic countries (in particular Denmark and Sweden): After all, there is a two-thirds chance that any of the three big parties will be in government after the election. But consensus can also lead to estrangement and be the breeding-ground of anti-establishment movements. The Finnish Rural Party (Landsbygdspartiet) was a parallel to the Danish and Norwegian Progress Parties during the 1970s and 1980s and in true Finnish style even made it into government.
Following the decline and eventual dissolution of the FRP, a new party called the True Finns (Sannfinnländerna) emerged in the mid-1990s but despite managing to enter parliament, the party only managed to play a marginal role until the begin of the 2011 electoral campaign and Finland may be in for the same kind of upheaval which has hit Dutch politics during the last decade: Polls show PS (short for Perussuomalaiset) at around 15% with the Social Democrats and the Centre Party struggling to maintain support even if the two parties are by no means threatened with the kind of electoral melt-down suffered by the Dutch Social Democrats in 2001 or the CDA in 2010 or for that matter the Danish and Swedish Social Democrats during the 2000s.
There are several reasons for the rise in PS support. Even if PS promotes anti-immigrant policies, this is probably less important (given the low number of immigrants in Finland) than a general unease about economic and social developments in peripheral parts of the country as well as the party’s ability to tap into the anti-EU sentiment which has otherwise been kept dormant by the major parties. The PS also mobilised the centre/periphery cleavage by attacking the position of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. Finally, a number of scandals – including one which forced prime minister Matti Vanhanen to resign in favour of Mari Kiviniemi during the parliamentary term – would also have helped in undermining confidence in the political elite.
Sunday’s parliamentary election will be exciting but one outcome is already certain: The next Finnish government will be a coalition.