Social Democrats choose 32-year-old Jutta Urpilainen as new chair
SDP’s first woman leader wins decisively in second round on Friday
“The page has turned. We have made history. We have stepped into a new age”, declared MP Jutta Urpilainen after she was elected as the new leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party at the SDP party congress in Hämeenlinna on Friday afternoon. Urpilainen is the first woman to hold the SDP chair.
In the second vote, the 32-year-old Urpilainen, a schoolteacher by training, defeated her only remaining rival Erkki Tuomioja 218 votes to 132.
This was Tuomioja’s fourth defeat in a party leadership race. After the vote he said that he now understands that it is time for him to move into the “veterans’ series”.
After her election, Urpilainen promised to “listen to the concerns of the Finnish people with an increasingly sensitive ear.
She also said that she wants the SDP to become a more dynamic and more open “party of values”.
By “party of values”, Urpilainen said that she means that the SDP will not promote the interests of any individual interest group, such as the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), and that anybody, regardless of profession, education, or wealth could vote for it.
“The impression has emerged that the SDP would promote the interests of some interest group, but for me the SDP has never been that”, she said later in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat.
Urpilainen wants closer cooperation with all labour market organisations, including the business community.
Speaking at the closing of the SDP congress on Saturday, Jutta Urpilainen outlined her vision for a “new SDP”.
“Everyday life has changed, politics must change. The SDP has stepped into the front line of this change”, Urpilainen said.
She said that the SDP “should open up more than before to the civil society”, and increase its cooperation with civic organisations.
“We are Finland’s oldest workers’ party, but we do not own the workers’ party patent.”
She also noted that the values held by the SDP are more popular than the SDP itself, and that this gives the party good potential for success.
In her speech, Urpilainen suggested that the Centre Party and the National Coalition Party have both moved further to the right. “The SDP has been left alone in the political centre.”
She also issued a challenge to all parties to ponder how to persuade more people to vote in elections.
Topping Urpilainen’s agenda were matters related to families wtih children. She said that child allowances for all children should be the same until the child turns 18. She also said that child allowances should be tied to the inflation index, and inequities should be fixed.
In social welfare, Urpilainen said that the principle should be that the weaker a person’s position is, the stronger his or her rights should be.
To fight homelessness, Urpilainen called for a subjective right to housing for all citizens.
In EU policy Urpilainen feels that Finland’s place is in “the core of Europe”.
“The opposition has been waiting for a year for the government to become more active in its EU policy”, she said.
Previously in HS International Edition:
News that Matti Ahde also got KMS money colours SDP party congress (6.6.2008)
HS Gallup: Filatov and Tuomioja equally popular in race for SDP leadership (25.2.2008)
SDP leadership race: Filatov and Urpilainen seen as favourites (12.2.2008)
Eero Heinäluoma to give up SDP leadership (11.2.2008)