COMMENTARY: Fear and loathing in the House of Parliament
By Miska Rantanen
Strange things can be heard in the marble-lined hallways of the House of Parliament in Helsinki. The atmosphere, which is usually so congenial, has suddenly turned sour in a period of about six months.
There may be suspicion in the air, and possibly even slight paranoia, as Members of Parliament ponder who has blown the whistle on whom, and to what media, or who has received money, how much, and why.
The change began early in the year, when Helsingin Sanomat published a story on sexual harassment in Parliament.
Although the story spawned reprimands from the Council for Mass Media in Finland, the case left its mark on everyday life in the building. Suddenly there seemed to be eyes that see and ears that hear all over the place.
Just as the groping scandal and its aftershocks began to fade away, came the text message saga that sank Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva (Nat. Coalition Party). The media and the public at large were again given the opportunity to evaluate the credibility of politicians and to ponder the differences in the public and private roles of high-level decision makers.
The most recent nail in the coffin has been the campaign funding mess, whose penetrating roots have surprised all sides.
Questionable sources of election campaign funding have become a cornucopia for journalists, providing a never-ending source of material. Politicians have done their best to help in this with evasions and half-truths, for which they have been immediately caught.
The guidebook of crisis communications has been left to gather dust with everyone, except Timo Kalli (Centre), who has been left alone after admitting to having screwed up.
The campaign funding mess has not only pitted parties against each other: all groups have skeletons of some kind in their closets, and the affair is inflaming relations within the parties.
Discord has emerged especially in the groups of the Centre Party and the Left Alliance. Fairly large sacks of euros have been distributed, but the distribution has been far from equal. There are questions in both camps about who decided on who would get the money and how much.
In the Centre Party, fingers are pointed at Party Secretary Jarmo Korhonen who, according to the latest information, has cleared out his room at party headquarters and vanished. The Centre Party Congress next weekend will offer first-class political entertainment when the Party Secretary, Members of Parliament, and the rank-and-file all meet.
In the Left Alliance, umbrage has been taken by young activists, as the support from Ohjelmatyö ry benefited older and more established names.
When [the leftist newspaper] Kansan Uutiset sought to assure its readers in its editorial last Tuesday that the coordination of the election subsidies through the association will withstand the light of day, Left Alliance party executive member Mirka Mulkonen, 33, the chairwoman of the party’s local organisation in Turku, wrote dismissively in her blog: “Yeah, right. How damn stupid do you think we are?”
Nobody knows how long the controversy surrounding the election money will continue. No immediate relief is in store as long as there are new revelations coming out. Members of Parliament can expect an unpleasant and tense summer holiday.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.6.2008
Previously in HS International Edition:
Scrutiny of private lives of government ministers seen to reflect political change (3.4.2008)
MEP Alexander Stubb to replace Ilkka Kanerva as Foreign Minister (1.4.2008)
Study finds extensive sexual harassment in Parliament (25.1.2008)
Kanerva´s texting had all the ingredients of a classic scandal (2.4.2008)
Left Alliance had secretive campaign funding organisation of its own (5.6.2008)
KMS support to Vanhanen campaign: Centre Party’s Kontiola made bank transaction (9.6.2008)
COMMENTARY: Money matters (25.5.2009)
MISKA RANTANEN / Helsingin Sanomat