Finland avoids polarization on immigration theme ahead of general election

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-20 07:00:19|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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HELSINKI, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- With a general election less than three months away, immigration issues have rapidly become a main national topic in Finland. The political parties in the parliament, however, have managed to find a common ground.

Several cases of sexual abuse of children in Oulu and Helsinki allegedly involving people of asylum seeker background triggered a political process meant to tighten the relevant criminal laws, to increase surveillance of internet criminality and to ease the deportation of foreigners with a criminal history.

The alarmist news about sixteen suspects under investigation in Oulu had been preceded by the publication of a poll reflecting an increase in the popularity of the anti-immigrant Finns Party. Markku Jokisipila, director of the parliamentary studies center at Turku University, said the fact was an example of what happens when a populist grouping attains a good enough position.

Early during the week, political commentators said it was now possible that immigration becomes a key theme in the April election. But following the joint political reaction to the sex abuse news, the theme last lost much of its divisive impact.

Jokisipila said the political turnaround was uniquely fast and could even be noticed from day to day.

Heikki Vento, a political staff writer at the news weekly Suomen Kuvalehti, recognized a similarity in the way the Finnish mainstream parties handled both the recent immigrant violence and the news about global warming following the publication of the international report in October 2018.

An all-party round table was created concerning the climate change, albeit the Finns Party stepped out near the end of the process. The parties compiled a joint target program. The Finns Party did not sign on it, but neither did it deny the existence of global warming.

Vento concluded that the same type of solution is now happening around the immigration theme. "In both cases, the climate change and immigrant criminality, tactical moves took place. Large parties wanted to safeguard their rear and prevent the populists and the Greens from collecting points through mutual quarreling about either the climate change or immigration."

Large parties have made it sure that these two issues will not be the basis of voters' choices, Vento noted.

Vento said the debate performance of the two main candidates for the prime minister, conservative leader Petteri Orpo and social democratic leader Antti Rinne, will be crucial. Their parties are now almost equal in all leading polls, at 20 percent or so. The incumbent prime minister Juha Sipila's Center Party has declined to 16 or 17 percent.

Since 2015 the social democrats have been in opposition, with the centrists and the conservatives forming the bulk of the the government. The third party used to be the Finns Party, but following the split of the party they went into the opposition and their breakaway grouping, Blue Reform remained in the government.

The Finns Party is gaining around ten percent backing, while the breakaway Blue Reform has attained roughly one percent only. In this week's immigrant criminality turmoil, the Blues took up the possibility of a constitutional change that would facilitate the disregarding of some international agreements on the protection of asylum seekers. In the end, the cabinet decided to "investigate the possibility of new interpretations" of the agreements rather than disregarding them.

On Saturday, a potential new election theme emerged as both the opposition social democrats and the populist Finns indicated in a political survey that they could consider a lower than planned number of jet fighters to be purchased to replace the current FA18 Hornets. The "largest arms deal of Finnish history" is to be decided by the next government and current planning is based on buying 64 jet fighters of a yet unknown type.

Tenders from leading Western arms manufacturers are coming to the Finnish Defence Ministry during the next a few months. Saturday's survey results indicates that the fighter purchase may be the next timely debate topic.

The major reform of health and social services is still being processed in parliament. In 2015 the Center Party and the conservative National Coalition Party made a deal in which the centrists agreed to open the public health services to private operators, in return for the conservative support for the establishment of 16 new regional administrative authorities.