By Lila Caballero and Marley Morris
Finland’s new president will definitely not be an anti-EU populist.
Finns went to the polls this Sunday for the first round of presidential elections. As we expected, Timo Soini’s True Finns party – now called The Finns – came well behind former finance minister Sauli Ninisto. Ninisto came first with 37 per cent, whilst Soini won 9.4 per cent, just under half of what his party won in 2011. Unfortunately for the Eurosceptics, their vote was split between former foreign minister Paavo Vayrynen (who won 17.5 per cent) and Soini, giving the Finnish electorate two pro-EU candidates to choose from in the second round.
The Finn’s unprecedented victory last year seems very far away now, despite one of the main concerns of the electorate still being the economic problems derived from Finland’s membership in the European Union. Counterpoint’s quantitative analysis had suggested prior to the election that Soini’s voters over the past decade have mainly been protest votes. Around 60% of True Finns’ voters did not see themselves as close to the party. Their support has been driven not by a faith in Soini’s leadership capabilities, but rather by a political disillusionment with the elites in power.
This year’s elections will mark the end of an era of Social Democratic presidents
But there is still plenty to protest about. So, although Soini came fourth, we should not read this as the beginning of the end of The Finns. Recent surveys show that his party is still polling at a healthy 19.9%. As for Sunday’s results, it might well be that Vayrynen – who like Soini is Eurosceptic – was more able to capture protest votes this time round.
Over the coming months, Counterpoint will be exploring the grievances of the reluctant voters that have enabled anti-EU and anti-immigration populist parties like The Finns to become major political players across Europe. Next up is presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen in France: will the Front National leader repeat her father’s success in 2002 by entering into the second round of the contest, or will she instead meet Timo Soini’s fate?
Counterpoint’s work on Finland, France and populism in Europe is a part of our Open Society Foundations supported project, Recapturing Europe’s Reluctant Radicals.