HELSINKI, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Following the announcement by Foreign Minister Timo Soini that he would no longer run for another term as chairman of the Finns Party (known as True Finns Party), it becomes possible that an anti-immigrant wing could gain control in the party that Soini has managed for 20 years.
The party convention due in June in Jyvaskyla, central Finland, is open to all members, and thousands are expected to attend. The outcome may remain a cliffhanger until the last minute although internal polls have indicated a majority for moderate populists.
Representing the current moderate party majority, Sampo Terho, chairman of the parliamentary group of the Finns Party, announced his candidacy on Monday. Defence Minister Jussi Niinisto said he would not run but would support Terho.
Jussi Halla-aho, leader of the party's anti-immigration wing and currently a member of the European Parliament, said on Monday he would announce his decision by next week.
In a recent poll conducted by Lannen Media about the backing for potential candidates, Terho gained 57 percent support whereas Halla-aho had 42 percent.
Lauri Nurmi, commentator of Lannen Media, said on Monday that Halla-aho could win in Jyvaskyla, if the anti-immigrant wing of the party succeeds in mobilizing its backers to the convention.
Newspaper Keskisuomalainen said the competition would be a "fight that will shake the coalition government and the whole Finland". The True Finns party may also break up, Keskisuomalainen concluded.
Terho described on Monday the True Finns as a "workers' party without socialism" and with nationalistic overtones, but stressed measures to curb immigration. Terho said a referendum on Finnish EU membership could be considered as a demand after the 2019 parliamentary election.
On the other hand, supporters of Halla-aho envisage a strong anti-immigration agenda.
Analysts said a turn for a radical direction would throw the True Finns out of the three-party government coalition.
Newspaper Keskisuomalainen said that the pre-convention situation of the True Finns puts the government into a difficult position. "The True Finns will have to gain fresh victories in the coalition so that internal criticism would not increase."
As one of the ruling parties, the Finns Party can boast previous practices of defending the interests of its voters. It blocked the plans to wreck the general applicability of labor union contracts, and prevented cutbacks in the housing subsidies for the elderly.
Nurmi said these actions have helped low income Finns but have not been able to raise its support level. He said it is a "political tragedy".
In the general election in 2015, True Finns gained 17.6 percent backing and became the third largest party in the 200-seat parliament. But in current opinion polls, the party has only nine percent backing.