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EDITORIAL: Timo Soini rewrote the electoral history books
An exceptionally exciting general election culminated on Sunday night in one historic victor above all others: Timo Soini and his True Finns.
The populist opposition party got the ground-shaking surge that Soini had predicted and leapt from being a grouping with just five seats in the outgoing Parliament to become the third-largest party in the country, with 39 MPs and a 19% share of the vote.
The success of the True Finns was even more emphatic and dramatic than anyone, with the possible exception of Soini at his most optimistic, had dared to expect.
Soini and his troops effectively channeled and ignited a sense of protest that has long been smouldering in the public mind.
With his own haul of more than 43,000 individual votes in Uusimaa, Soini became the most popular candidate in the entire country, even if his tally fell far short of the massive 60,000 and more collected by Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party) four years ago.
The National Coalition Party, too, enjoyed a historic victory of a kind, albeit not with a historically high share of the total vote.
For the first time in the party's history, the National Coalition became the largest grouping in Parliament, with 44 seats. Despite suffering a loss of six seats from the previous elections, the party chairman Jyrki Katainen, as prime minister designate, will be the first who is charged with attempting to form a new government.
It is probably safe to assume that the government formation talks will be exceptionally difficult.
The likelihood is that the new government will be formed around a central core of the National Coalition conservatives and the Social Democratic Party, in opposition for the past four years.
As the election's biggest winner, the True Finns would undoubtedly have every right to a seat in government, but their path in this direction may end in the government programme discussions, at least if Katainen and Soini remain firmly entrenched in their opposing positions on the bailout of Portugal.
To be fair, both party leaders were noticeably conciliatory in their initial comments on election night as the result became clear.
Then again, the two parties are divided by a good deal more than simply their attitudes towards the European Union.
In fact one might say after this election that the True Finns have both a right and a duty to participate in the next government.
For all that, the True Finns' government road may be a rather bumpy one, not least because the other parties with whom they might share a coalition do not necessarily trust that the True Finns' parliamentary group will remain in one piece for the full duration of the electoral term.
The result of this election was so unusual that even the coining of a suitable nickname to describe the possible new government has proved problematic. So far the best effort has been "True Blue and Red".
Jutta Urpilainen and the SDP pulled off what was in these circumstances a quite passable result.
The Social Democrats' kick towards the finishing line in the closing week of the campaign paid off. the party moved into second place with 42 MPs and only a modest decline from 2007.
Supporting the troubled eurozone countries is hardly likely to become an insurmountable obstacle to the SDP's presence in any new government that emerges.
To add still more to the sense of history in the making, on Sunday the Centre Party achieved a historic result, in that they suffered a defeat of unprecedented proportions and went from being the largest party in the country - with the prime minister's portfolio - to a rather distant fourth and an immediate exit into opposition.
There is no doubt that Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi and the Centrists were left to shoulder the responsibility and the blame for the support of eurozone countries that have got into difficulties.
When Finland joined the euro, the Centre Party was in opposition and opposed our entry into the eurozone.
The opposition benches also beckon for Anne Sinnemäki and the other Greens, who lost seats and votes.
There was actually a third winner in this election: Finnish parliamentary democracy.
Voter turnout improved appreciably from the figure in 2007, to reach 70.4%.
This gives a strong mandate for the work of the new Parliament.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 18.4.2011