Jutta Urpilainen unanimously chosen for second term as SDP leader; ex-YLE managing director Mikael Jungner becomes party secretary
Deputy chairmen re-elected to office
The party congress of the largest opposition party the Social Democrats began in the eastern city of Joensuu on Thursday.
The leader of the Social Democrats, Jutta Urpilainen, 35, was today chosen for another two-year term.
The choice was unanimous, as Urpilainen entered the party congress with her position unchallenged.
Urpilainen regards the criticism she has faced as other people’s inexperience of a new kind of political culture.
Two years ago, Urpilainen declared ”the arrival of the new SDP”, and today, she herself is satisfied with her accomplishments.
Other parties have been ”stuck in the old world”, Urpilainen said at the party congress.
Urpilainen’s new political culture features ”team management”: the leader gathers around herself strong people and several talking heads.
Outside the SDP, people have been wondering who actually is the person who determines the party’s political line.
Is that person party leader Urpilainen or Eero Heinäluoma, the chairman of the SDP parliamentary group and the former chairman?
Matters on this front were further complicated recently by a poll that suggested that among SDP supporters Heinäluoma was a better choice of prime minister than Urpilainen, in the event that the party emerged victorious from the next elections.
In her thank-you speech to the party congress, Urpilainen recalled her election at the party congress in Hämeenlinna two years ago, after Heinäluoma stood down following the party's stinging defeat in the 2007 general election, which pushed it into opposition.
”I did not know then what kind of path I and we would have ahead. It has been rather bumpy. I remember an old wisdom: when you have fallen down and are lying on the ground, you should stay there for a while in order to see who is kicking you. I thought that I should stay there just a little longer in order to understand why. The question is about the fact that we are doing things in a new kind of way”, Urpilainen noted.
Urpilainen promised that she would stick her neck out even in the future on behalf of ”Social Democratic values”.
The party congress did not express much criticism against Urpilainen’s idea of the new SDP - and those who did, did so anonymously.
The party congress is continuing, and today delegates are also electing a new party secretary and deputy chairs.
Some moments ago, the selection of a new party secretary was concluded, and Mikael Jungner, 45, was chosen as the new holder of the position.
The former CEO of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), who left his position with the public broadcaster only some weeks ago, received 75% of all votes in a closed-ballot poll, namely 374 votes out of a total of 499.
The other two candidates were Reijo Paananen, the European Union Affairs Director at the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), and Lari Kangas, a former official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The former YLE Managing Director was also the advance favourite for the contest, as many members of the SDP would like to have a high-profile party secretary.
Mikael Jungner’s choice as the party secretary could in turn reduce Urpilainen’s visibility, as Jungner is known as a strong personality. Nevertheless, it was Urpilainen herself who asked Jungner to run for the job, and had he been defeated it would have been interpreted generally as a criticism of her judgement.
Expectations are in any event high for the new party secretary.
Most of his supporters who took the floor prior to the vote stressed that the party secretary has a pivotal position when the SDP tries to secure a comeback victory in the elections of March 2011, attempting to escape from the opposition role they found themselves in from 2007, when they lost eight seats and saw their share of the vote slip by more than 3%-points.
Jungner himself hopes to stand as an SDP candidate in Uusimaa in next year's general election.
The next step at the SDP gathering was to choose deputy chairmen.
The strongest of a quartet of challengers to the current three deputy leaders - Maria Guzenina-Richardson, Ilkka Kantola, and Pia Viitanen - was thought likely to be Susanna Huovinen, an MP from Central Finland, who has also acted as the Minister of Transport.
However, when it came to a vote on Friday afternoon, all three secured more than enough support from the delegates: Guzenina-Richardson collected 327 votes, Kantola 310, and Viitanen 284, after some vigorous lobbying on behalf of continuity.
Susanna Huovinen had the backing of 187 delegates, and none of the other three candidates gained more than a hundred votes.
The Social Democrats currently enjoy support in the country of just over 21%, but worryingly the party has not hitherto benefited from the sort of bounce that might be expected from being in opposition to a centre-right government coalition that has had to take some unpopular measures as Finland tightens its belt in difficult economic times.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Former Finnish Broadcasting Company CEO Mikael Jungner to seek seat in Parliament and SDP Secretary´s position (6.5.2010)
SDP would give priority on the labour market to the unemployed who already live in Finland (21.5.2010)
National Coalition Party would reject SDP as possible government partner (17.5.2010)
Government parties lash out at SDP for opposing Greek loan package (12.5.2010)
Social Democratic Party