With immigration policy being one of the hottest topics in the upcoming elections, SixDegrees decided to take a closer look at the parties’ views and representation of immigrants.

THERE was never any doubt that immigration would be one of the most contentious issues of the 2011 election. With the rise and rise of Timo Soini and the right wing True Finns, other parties and politicians have been sent scrabbling to come up with a message that sells. In some cases, there has seemed to be a willingness to compromise core values in order to do so.

While most parties have a clear and stated policy on immigration, there has also been an increasing trend for individual politicians to step away from the policy and speak with their own voice. While at times this has been refreshing, it has also muddied the party waters to the extent that it is not always easy to know what policies particular parties might support in parliament.

We took a look at the main parties’ core policies, checked their answers on the “election voting machine” published on KEPA’s pages*, and also noted some of the comments from particular politicians.

National Coalition Party/Kokoomus

The conservative Kokoomus party claims: “We value liberty and democracy, education, tolerance, and equal opportunity. We envisage a society that encourages individuality, balances between freedom and responsibility, and provides incentive for individual enterprise.”

Puzzlingly, their website also states, “The crux of the thought and ideology of the National Coalition Party comprises of a continuing emphasis on the responsibility of our communities, the robust assessment our own ethics and moral foundations, and the upholding of patriotism while advancing internationalization and global responsibility.”

While it is difficult to imagine quite what this might mean in practice, there is a clear emphasis on tradition and patriotism, something that may run counter to an open immigration policy.

Attitudes towards immigration seem to differ sharply within the party, from the notably liberal statements from Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, to the more conservative voice of Finance Minister Jryki Katainen.

Kokoomus are traditionally a party who place a strong emphasis on business, entrepreneurialism and individual responsibility, so their immigration policy has usually been linked to the requirements of the Finnish job market, while also honouring Finnish commitments to international agreements on refugees and asylum seekers.

On Vaalikone 2011, when asked whether immigration should be sharply curtailed, the majority of candidates answered either “Somewhat disagree” or “Strongly disagree” with only Helsinki candidate Wille Rydman strongly agreeing with limiting immigration. Notable candidates include the Kosovo-born Fatbardhe Hetemaj, who was named Refugee of the Year in 2009.

Social Democrats

The SDP website notes that, “A society without fairness is a society without meaning. Success, opportunity and freedom must be open to all people, and society should reward hard work and fair-play – not greed, status or chance. The measure of people should be their respect for others, not their wealth and background or characteristics such as race, sexuality or gender.”

It also notes, “Immigration policy must be controlled and it must emphasize participation. Work-related immigration from outside the EU countries must be based on real need for workforce in different economic fields. Well planned and managed immigration policy enhances the status of immigrants and helps the Finnish society to gain the best possible benefit from the knowledge and skills of the immigrants.”

Although party leader Jutta Urpilainen did come under fire for her “When in Rome” comments last year (which suggested immigrants need to also respect Finnish traditions and practices), there also seems to be a strong element of common sense in suggesting that the integration of migrants involves commitment from both sides.

SDP is looking to find a middle ground between the traditional social democratic values of tolerance and diversity, and the slightly more populous appeal of calling for immigrants to adhere to Finnish values.

On Vaalikone 2011, when asked whether immigration should be sharply curtailed, the majority of candidates answered “Strongly disagree”. SDP has a couple of very strong candidates from migrant backgrounds, particularly Nasima Razmyar, who moved to Finland from Afghanistan in 1992, and Nelonen newsreader Jesca Muyingo.

Centre Party/Keskusta

Within the party there is clear discomfort over poor recent election performances, and a lack of clarity over party policy. Immigration is not the only issue in which the party seems to have struggled to develop a clear voice distinct from that of coalition partner Kokoomus, and coherent policies to go with them.

As with Kokoomus, there seems to be a strong variation in attitudes towards immigration. Leader Mari Kiviniemi largely seen as a moderate and liberal influence – liberal enough, at least, to be praised by Bono during last summer’s U2 concerts!

Nevertheless, the Centre Party website does commit the party both to international agreements, and also insists the parties policies will remain current, focused and will consider issues of equality and integration. Special mention is made of providing adequate language and mentoring services for migrants.

On Vaalikone 2011, when asked whether immigration should be sharply curtailed, the majority of Keskusta candidates answered either “Somewhat disagree” or “Strongly disagree”. Notable candidates include Somalia-born translator and consultant Abdirahim Hussein.

Christian Democrats/KD

While immigration isn’t as core an issue for their party as Party Leader Päivi Rässänen’s notorious comments on homosexuality, there is also a clear rift in the party, with some members clearly more tolerant than others.

While the party website does state that, “We want to defend those who are not capable of defending themselves”, whether this extends to immigrant communities is not specifically stated.

Polling suggests the party has unintentionally jolted itself to the right, picking up hardcore support, whilst losing ground to other parties in the centre.

The Greens/Vihreät

The Greens are in the rather unusual position of being perceived as being left wing, whilst also being a partner in the governing right wing coalition. They undoubtedly have a core of extremely competent MPs such as Tuija Brax and Anne Sinnemäki, but may struggle to maintain their share of the vote this time around.

Surprisingly, the Greens declined to provide policy information in English, but their website tells us fairly clearly that the Greens represent tolerance and equality. Racism and discrimination are simply unacceptable. There is also a rather nice statement that reminds us that the migrants who come to Finland are people, and not a faceless mass.

While traditionally the Greens have been very liberal in their commitment to racial diversity and thus immigration, the Greens may look to focus more on climate change and domestic issues.

On Vaalikone 2011, when asked whether immigration should be sharply curtailed, the majority of candidates answered either “Somewhat disagree” or “Strongly disagree”.

Key candidates include the Iraqi Kurdish lawyer Husein Muhamed, and the highly experienced Zahra Abdulla.

Left Alliance/Vasemmisto

The Left Alliance is the most left wing of the parties currently represented in the Finnish parliament, and has traditionally also been very positive about the development of a multi-cultural society here.

Their website states, “Left Alliance promotes Finland’s development into a multicultural country. All people who permanently live in the country must have the same civil rights and obligations. We welcome immigrants in Finland and full citizenship. Immigrants and refugees bring new life and cultural richness into Finland. Immigrants are individuals and there are different starting points, life situations and reasons for their moving.”

On Vaalikone 2011, when asked whether immigration should be sharply curtailed, the majority of candidates answered “Strongly disagree”. Perhaps surprisingly for a clearly leftwing party, the Left Alliance is fielding few candidates of an ethnic background, with only Espoo writer Mohammed Kaiser in Uusimaa standing out.

True Finns/Perussuomalaiset

The better noir of Finnish politics, under Timo Soini the True Finns have gained massive support based on clear policies and strong rhetoric. Although unlikely to play an active part in Finnish government due to their refusal to work with any party that supports the adoption of the EU constitution into Finnish law, this has also allowed the party considerable freedom to campaign on an agenda they never need put into practice.

The party would certainly place heavy limitations on humanitarian immigration to Finland, and even in opposition will no doubt campaign for this. But the party’s strength in the polls may also be its weakness. While Soini is an adept and intelligent politician, current polling could bring candidates such as the notorious Jussi Halla-aho into parliament, which could also create a backlash from mainstream Finnish society against the party’s more extreme edges. Halla-aho has claimed that as long as the immigrants stick to the cultural characteristics of their countries of origin, their isolation within the society in the destination country is maintained, and has described Islam as being a fascist religion. Halla-aho wishes to severely limit the number of migrants entering Finland, and also wishes to facilitate deportations of migrants involved in crime.

Given the chequered history of former True Finns parliamentarian and former wrestler Tony Halme, there are also concerns over the competence of candidates this time around, such as former female bodybuilding champion Kike Elomaa.

Swedish Peoples Party/Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue

The party of often hysterically reviled Internal Affairs Minister Astrid Thors, RKP can often seem less like a traditional political party than a gathering of people with a common language. Their message often differs sharply from candidate to candidate.

The party website tells us, “The Swedish Peoples’ Party is a moderate liberal political party active in all sectors of politics. The party upholds the ideals of personal freedom and every individual's ability to establish socially useful goals in co-operation with other people.”

Thus, RKP would be expected to continue Finnish commitments to international refugee and asylum seeking agreements, and continuing to promote the message of a genuinely multicultural Finland. The Indian-born Helsinki candidate Tino Singh has spoken strongly on Finland’s need for more taxpayers, and on the potential of immigration to support Finland’s competitiveness internationally.

*The Service Centre for Development Cooperation Vaalikone 2011, www.vaalikone2011.fi/ehdokkaat
Parliamentary elections will be held on 17 April 2011.

Text David Brown, Illustration Hans Eiskonen