European elections: Centre accuses National Coalition Party of dirty campaign tactics
Pöntinen campaign continues to raise controversy
The Centre Party is accusing the conservative National Coalition Party of playing dirty in the campaign for the European Parliament elections.
Centre Party Secretary Jarmo Korhonen sees the candidacy of controversial National Coalition candidate Kai Pöntinen, whose election advertisements have been denounced as racist, as a deliberate tactic on the part of the party.
The National Coalition Party sharply denies any such goings-on. The leaders of the party have decried earlier ads put out by Pöntinen, but the Centre Party questions the sincerity of the criticism.
“Kai Pöntinen told me in Seinäjoki on May 11th that “the National Coalition has branded me to be a counterbalance to [True Finns Party leader] Timo Soini”, Korhonen said on Wednesday to Helsingin Sanomat.
Pöntinen sharply denied saying anything like that.
“The National Coalition does not brand any candidates. We don’t treat our candidates as products, but rather as people”, said National Coalition Party Secretary Taru Tujunen to Helsingin Sanomat.
Tujunen said that when Pöntinen was accepted as a candidate, the leaders of the party had no knowledge of the tone that he would take toward immigration.
In a newspaper advertisement last week, Pöntinen called for a “stop to welfare bum immigrants”.
National Coalition Party leaders denounced the advertisement, but the Centre Party’s confidence in the innocence of its rival has declined because Pöntinen has continued along similar lines.
“For instance, in the latest issue of the [free-distribution city newspaper] Vartti, Pöntinen calls for a ‘return ticket for opportunists’. Pöntinen’s xenophobia is not a surprise to the National Coalition Party leadership; it is a part of the party’s election strategy”, wrote Centre Party MEP candidate Johanna Korhonen in her blog.
Tujunen was told of the advertisement in Vartti on Wednesday evening by Helsingin Sanomat, and said that she does not consider it “appropriate under any circumstances”.
She had heard about the advertisement in advance, and ordered Pöntinen not to publish it.
Pöntinen said later that the publication of the ad in Vartti was a mistake, caused by his carelessness.
A different version of the ad was to have gone to the paper. Pöntinen himself sees “nothing improper” in his campaign.
In the background to the spat are concerns about voter behaviour within both the NCP and the Centre Party.
The Centrists fear a loss at the polls after recent slipping support figures, and their government partners and rivals within the moderate conservative National Coalition Party are alert to the dangers of losing support on the right to the True Finns, who have adopted a strongly anti-immigration and EU-sceptic stance.
A March study added to the Centre Party's alarm when it indicated that rural residents and blue-collar workers took the most negative view towards immigration - the Centre draws much of its support from rural areas.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Election ad denouncing “welfare bum immigrants” too much for party leader Katainen (29.5.2009)
PM Vanhanen hopes immigration issue will not become blunt instrument in Finnish politics (28.10.2008)
Thors reacts to Katainen comments on immigration (20.2.2009)
Poll: Rural residents and blue-collar workers most negative toward immigration (17.3.2009)