Finns Party under pressure after Halla-aho verdict
Embattled MP refuses to quit committee chairmanship
Friday’s ruling by the Finnish Supreme Court, in which it sentenced Finns Party MP Jussi Halla-aho to a fine for violating the free exercise of worship and for incitement against an ethnic group, is drawing attention to Halla-aho and his party, and making it more difficult for party chairman Timo Soini to shake off the Finns’ Party’s reputation as a political haven for racists.
Halla-aho’s sentence was for a blog entry he made four years ago, in which he characterised Islam as a paedophile religion, and suggested that Somalis are innately dishonest and parasitic.
Lower courts had convicted Halla-aho only of defaming religion, but the Supreme Court decided that his article also constituted incitement against an ethnic group.
On Saturday Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja (SDP) wrote in his blog that Timo Soini needs to distance himself from the “extreme nationalist and racist wing” of his party if he wants to be seen as a possible cooperative partner in the eyes of others. Tuomioja sees Halla-aho’s sentence as a “moment of truth” for Soini.
Mikaela Nylander, the chairwoman of the Parliamentary group of the Swedish People’s Party, said at her party’s congress in Kokkola on Saturday that Halla-aho would have to resign from his post as chairman of the Administration Committee of Parliament.
“His political trust is gone. The Finns Party – Soini above all – needs to draw the right conclusions”, Nylander said.
Timo Soini said after the verdict came that he plans to take no further measures in the Halla-aho case, saying that the punishment meted out by the court is sufficient.
“Publicity is tough, merciless, and sometimes fair. I do not plan to take this matter any further”, he said on Friday.
“He will have to live with his sentence, and the Finns Party will have to live with it.”
In 2009, when the case was still in court, Soini said in a newspaper interview that if Halla-aho is convicted, he would not have a future in the party.
On Friday, after the Supreme Court’s decision was announced, Soini said that he is “not the one to throw the biggest stone”. He also noted that in 2008, when the article came out, Halla-aho was not a member of the party’s parliamentary group.
Soini now feels that Halla-aho, who is also a member of the Helsinki City Council, can run in the upcoming municipal elections on the Finns Party ticket.
The Parliamentary group of the Finns Party has had to take issue with the behaviour of some of its MPs on a number of occasions.
MP Teuvo Hakkarainen has been reprimanded by his party’s other MPs for racially insensitive remarks, and Halla-aho himself was suspended from the group for suggesting that Greece would do better under a military government.
Questions have also been raised about Halla-aho’s future as the chairman of Parliament’s Administration Committee, which deals with legislation on immigration, ecclesiastical matters, and municipal affairs.
“Parliament has chosen him to this task, and it is my understanding that being sentenced to a fine is not a sufficient reason – the question is one of political trust. Different committee groups and Parliamentary groups can consider now whether or not to take action in this matter. We will not”, Timo Soini said.
Annika Lapintie, the chairwoman of the Parliamentary group of the Left Alliance indicated on Friday that Halla-aho should step down from the post. The committee’s deputy chairwoman Maarit Feldt-Ranta (SDP) and Osmo Soininvaara (Green), one of its members, said that the matter is up to the Finns Party.
The Finnish Parliament’s Secretary-General Seppo Tiitinen confirms that it is very difficult to change the composition of Parliamentary committees if the person in question does not resign.
In theory, the Presidium could propose to the full Parliament that the Administration Committee should be reconstituted. However, Tiitinen says that this would require “extremely valid reasons”.
Halla-aho was quoted on Monday as downplaying the significance of his conviction, saying that the decision does not reflect any “celestial truth”.
According to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), he also said that he will not step down from his post on the Administration Committee.
The Supreme Court is the highest in the country, and its decisions cannot be appealed in Finland, but Halla-aho plans to take up the matter before the European Court of Human Rights.
Previously in HS International Edition:
True Finns’ Halla-aho promises to “change style” (16.9.2011)
Helsinki councillor Jussi Halla-aho attracts dozens of supporters to courthouse (26.8.2009)
Green women´s organisation considers filing criminal report against True Finns councillor Jussi Halla-aho (14.11.2008)
Supreme Court finds Finns Party MP Jussi Halla-aho guilty of incitement against an ethnic group (8.6.2012)
EDITORIAL: Halla-aho confronts the real world (15.9.2011)
Timo Soini to reprimand MP Hakkarainen again for racially insensitive remarks (24.5.2011)
Timo Soini reprimands new MP (29.4.2011)