Presidential race: Lipponen candidacy takes aim at populism
Former Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament Paavo Lipponen, who announced his intention to seek the presidential nomination of his Social Democratic Party on Thursday, had to search for a spark of enthusiasm before he was persuaded to seek the post of President of the Republic.
The Finnish presidency currently carries less authority than that of the office of Prime Minister, which Lipponen held for eight years. One factor that changed his mind was his realisation that the leadership role in foreign policy, which is still part of the job description of the office, is a necessary one.
“I have realised that the times are such and the change in the world is such that traditional foreign policy is needed, and I have several decades of experience in this”, Lipponen said at a press conference on Thursday.
Announcing his candidacy on Thursday, Lipponen emphasised that the world faces serious problems.
“Finland’s position remains relatively good, but a new recession would rapidly bring us mass unemployment.”
Lipponen said that as president he would seek to unify the country by narrowing social differences: “Those who are better off will be asked to give of what they have.”
Lipponen voiced irritation about populist politics.
He spoke of bringing the nation together, respect for all population groups, and of the importance of bilingualism – an aspect that was emphasised by the fact that Lipponen made his announcement in both of Finland’s national languages – Finnish and Swedish.
The comments could be seen as a poke at the True Finns, who take a critical view of immigration, and who want to get rid of mandatory school studies of the Swedish language.
When asked what he thought of True Finns party chairman and possible presidential candidate Timo Soini, Lipponen refused to comment. Soini sees Lipponen as one of the creators of what he considers to be Finland’s failed EU strategy.
Lipponen had praise for Green League presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto, calling him a “good colleague, and a civilised person”.
The atmosphere at the press conference where Lipponen announced his candidacy was in sharp contrast to the prevailing feeling at the June event when Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party) announced his candidacy.
Niinistö gathered journalists together on an early morning at the Café Ursula on the southern tip of the Helsinki peninsula. He wore jeans, the top button of his shirt was unbuttoned, and his sunglasses sticking out of his breast pocket.
Paavo Lipponen arrived at his event at the Ostrobothnia restaurant in Helsinki in a dark suit and tie. His speech touched upon the importance of knowledge of Finnish civilisation, history, and roots.
Although Lipponen’s words were far from anything that could be seen as pandering to the nation, he insisted that he does not feel himself to be above the people.
He also said that those in Finland who are well off have no cause to complain. He also emphasised that he likes to interact with people, “even though some might think otherwise”.
Lipponen expressed special concern over youth unemployment and care for the elderly. He said that he would respect the view taken in the government’s policy programme that Finland should not join NATO. However, he also would welcome open debate on the matter.
The Social Democratic Party will officially choose its presidential candidate based on an advisory poll of party members to be held in late August and early September.
More on this subject:
Väyrynen says his own presidential prospects are enhanced by Lipponen candidacy
Previously in HS International Edition:
Lipponen running for Social Democratic nomination for President (11.8.2011)