Former Finns Party MP’s book describes ’radicalisation’ of party

Former Finns Party MP's book describes 'radicalisation' of party

Simon Elo was leader of Finns Party Youth until 2014 and a member of Parliament from 2015 to 2017.

A new book by former Finns Party MP Simon Elo has described the ’radicalisation’ of the party during his time as a member, as well as documenting the failures of the breakaway group Blue Reform.

Elo was a member of the Finns Party from 2009 to 2017, during which time he was leader of Finns Party Youth from 2010 to 2014 before being elected to Parliament in 2015.

Elo and 19 others then left the party in 2017 to establish the New Alternative parliamentary group, which later became the Blue Reform party. He left Blue Reform in 2019 having failed in his bid to get re-elected to Parliament, and is now a member of the National Coalition Party (NCP).

In his book, Simon Elo – poliittiset mustelmani (’Simon Elo - My Political Bruises’), he also claims that his former party colleagues have tried to influence public discourse with ’fake news’, reveals the threats received by politicians, and sheds light on the Sote political battle that led to the resignation and dissolution of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s (Cen) government.

Moderates v radicals

According to Elo, the first signs of internal divisions within the Finns Party were evident at a meeting of the party’s parliamentary group after the 2015 election.

At that meeting, Laura Huhtasaari lost the position of second vice-chair of the parliamentary group to Ari Jalonen in a vote.

"The result was clear and showed for the first time the internal power dynamic within the parliamentary group. The moderates supported Jalonen and the radicals supported Huhtasaari," Elo writes.

He adds that at around the same time he first noticed signs of fatigue in the then party chair Timo Soini and that "everyday policy-making was no longer of interest to Soini in the same way as before."

As a consequence, Huhtasaari was having an increasing influence on the Finns Party’s direction, arguing that that she wanted the party to become an anti-EU party like the Sweden Democrats and focus more on immigration policy.

"It is said that the party must be moderate. Why should we be moderate," Elo recalls Huhtasaari asking.

Subsequently, in the spring of 2017, nine Finns Party MPs called for further tightening of the government’s immigration policy as a condition for the progress of Sote reform. The Finns Party were a government coalition partner at the time.

Sote reform refers to the protracted attempts to transfer responsibility in Finland for organising social and healthcare services from 310 municipalities to 21 regional authorities plus the city of Helsinki.

"Previously, the nine had not shown any interest in influencing Sote reform, until it could be used to harness immigration policy," Elo writes, naming the other members of the group of nine as Juho Eerola, Teuvo Hakkarainen, Olli Immonen, Rami Lehto, Jani Mäkelä, Jari Ronkainen, Sami Savio and Ville Tavio.

Elo adds that he suspects current party chair Jussi Halla-aho was influencing the direction of the group in the background.

"We other MPs in the parliamentary group were furious about that. The nine pulled the rug out under our feet," he writes, adding that Huhtasaari only agreed to issue an apology to the other party MPs after Sampo Terho, then chair of the parliamentary group, threatened to dismiss her.

According to Elo, a ’ceasefire’ between the moderates and the radicals was agreed just before the party’s 2017 party convention.

Flirting with the far-right?

Halla-aho was then elected party chair at the convention in June 2017, and Elo writes that the parliamentary group firmly split into two camps after the vote, and eventually into two parties.

He also criticises chair Halla-aho and other current members of the party, whom he says have become ’radicalised’, for ’flirting’ with so-called nationalist groups and the far-right.

"The extermination of white people, and the concepts created by the far right, are popular topics of conversation for members of the Finns Party today," Elo writes, adding that Halla-aho has become too close to far-right movements.

"Halla-aho is a skilled linguist who raised a necessary debate on immigration policy years ago, but has since succumbed to close cooperation with far-right movements," he continues.

Words can lead to actions

Elo describes how the atmosphere intensified further, and intimidation began, after the New Alternative parliamentary group broke away from the Finns Party in 2017. Elo says that he himself as well as former Finns Party leader Timo Soini were particular targets.

"I have never received threats from anyone who calls themselves green [Green Party voter], for example, but I have been threatened or insulted by several people who either directly say or imply that they are supporters of the Finns Party," Elo writes.

Words can lead to actions, he adds, and cites the example of a man wearing clothing adorned with the logo of anti-immigrant group Soldiers of Odin attempting to attack Soini as he campaigned at a market in Vantaa in March 2019.

At the time, Elo recalls, a number of Finns Party members commented on Twitter that the attack was "staged" and "an election trick the Blue Reform paid for."

"There is no limit to the evil, stupidity and shamelessness when it comes to commenting on politics," Elo writes, adding that all of the others who left the Finns Party in 2017 have received threats.

"For example, Kimmo Kivelä received a message that "a traitor’s pay is death" and Pirkko Mattila was told that "during the Winter War, such people would have been lined up and shot," Elo adds.

Blue Reform supporters were also threatened in public, but the most sinister threats were made on social media, Elo writes.

"There were so many different insults and threats that the activities seemed organised. The same words were repeated in some messages. Threats were often veiled phrases like "someone should kill you" or "hopefully something happens on a dark street"," he says.

Sote and the Blue collapse

The failure to get the Sote reform over the line led to the collapse of Sipilä’s government, which contained the Centre Party, the NCP and Blue Reform.

Elo recalls receiving a text message from Sampo Terho in March 2019, informing him of the impending fall of the government.

"You will hear about this in the media soon, but so that you can prepare to respond, I can tell you that the Prime Minister has decided to give his resignation to the President. Petteri Orpo [NCP chair] and I tried to stop him, but the Prime Minister has made his decision," Elo writes of Terho’s message.

The 2019 parliamentary elections were held a month later, with the Blue Reform party garnering just one percent of the vote. The party that had five government ministers did not even get one MP back into Parliament.

Source: yle.fi

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