Allan Bain is a journalist works in various capacities for SixDegrees.

FOR several months we had been inundated with statistics about how well the True Finns were going to do at this year’s parliamentary elections. Each survey’s findings seemed to reinforce the previous one’s to such an extent that the election felt like it would be a forgone conclusion. At the same time, “anti-True Finns” were all hoping that the growth in the party’s support would simply turn out to be one big mirage – the result of flawed polling techniques and an overestimation of the likelihood supporters of the party would actually make the trip to their local polling station. Consequently, no one was really prepared for what happened.

AS the results started coming in, it soon became apparent that pollsters had indeed got the extent of the party’s support wrong – they had underestimated it! With around 80 per cent of votes counted, the party was still neck and neck with the conservative National Coalition for first place.

AS it turned out, the True Finns were pushed into third place (i.e. 39 seats and 19 per cent of the vote) by the narrowest of margins. Regardless, the result was astounding, especially as the party only gained 4.1 per cent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections four years ago.

WITH such a big winner, there had to be some losers. Many had presumed the main loser would be the Social Democrats (SDP), but, while they enjoyed a last-minute resurgence to claim second place, it was outgoing prime minister Mari Kiviniemi’s Centre Party that suffered most at the True Finns’ hands – it lost almost an entire third of its seats in the parliament.

WHAT do the election results say about Finland today, then? Well, it is clear that not all Finns are as tolerant and socially liberal as they’re often believed to be in other countries. The True Finns are certainly not the devil incarnate, and can even be said to be somewhat touchy-feely when it comes to the lot of the most downtrodden of Finns, yet they have a nasty streak a mile wide, epitomised by the writings of the notorious Jussi Halla-aho. Moreover, while some of the party’s new parliamentarians may legitimately claim to neither be racist, homophobic, worryingly uninformed or completely ignorant of environmental issues, everyone knows, these MPs included, that a great many of their supporters are.

THE election results also suggest that Finns are very much divided in their feelings towards the size of their welfare state. On the one hand, the National Coalition, the country’s chief political advocate of a “smaller state”, became the country’s biggest party for the first time in its history. On the other, the SDP, True Finns and Left Alliance, comprising a hard core of “big state” defenders, together successfully captured 95 of the 200 seats on offer.

ALONG with the question of what this election says about Finland, it also forces us to consider why a populist, xenophobic party has done so well in a country envied the world over for its high level of education. Trying to give a conclusive answer to this question here would be foolish, but I can say this: fear – of the EU, foreigners, homosexuals, beggars, a loss of identity, a less comprehensive welfare state, a change in the status quo etc. – has a lot to answer for. Fear is a natural response to all sorts of political, economic and societal trends, but placing fear at the heart of a political party’s ideology, as I’m sure we’ll soon discover, isn’t at all conducive to productive parliamentary debate.

Allan Bain