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Sari Essayah: Muslim immigrants could vote for Christian Democrats

David Mac Dougall
Sari Essayah: Muslim immigrants could vote for Christian Democrats
Sari Essayah: Muslim immigrants could vote for Christian Democrats
Christian Democrats leader Sari Essayah says her party's family-focused policies could appeal to Muslims in Finland, but has the party become so small that it's ineffective in parliament? Essayah talks about the state of her party on Newsmakers with David Mac Dougall., She also discusses Britain's EU referendum, and the row over American military exercises in Finland.

Christian Democrats leader Sari Essayah says her party's family-focused policies could appeal to Muslims in Finland.

Speaking on HSTV's weekly English-language current affairs show Newsmakers, Essayah says many of her party's supporters "have close connections to churches and religious communities" and that the party's values are based on Christian values.

"When it comes to family policy, I would say that for a Muslim voter, Christian Democratic family values are maybe the closest one" says Essayah.

When asked whether she thought Muslims would want to vote for her party, she replied "why not". "We are for freedom of religion, and we see [that] all religious communities [are] very important for society".

The party current enjoys most of its support from older voters, primarily in the small towns of the Finnish countryside, but Essayah is open to the idea that new immigrants could be attracted to the party's more traditional, family-focussed values-based ideology.

Turning to Britain's upcoming referendum on whether to stay in, or leave, the European Union - the so-called 'Brexit' - Essayah says that from a Finnish perspective "it would be quite harmful if Brexit happens".

"The EU is needing Britain for commercial cooperation, we are like-minded countries, Finland and Britain".

But Essayah conceded that Britain's financial clout - it gives more to the EU financially than it gets out of it - is one major reason why the UK should vote to remain.

"Britain is one of the biggest net payers in EU [...] if Brexit happens, it would mean that Finland has a lot bigger share of the EU budget to cover".

The Christian Democrat party, says Essayah, shares a lot of the same concerns as British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party: wary about Brussels imposing too many rules, red tape and legislation on individual countries.

"We see the European Union as a good platform for cooperation between the independent states", says Essayah, but similarly to Cameron, thinks that "there are a lot of things we can do better at a national level".

Essayah, who served in the European Parliament from 2003-2007, admits that if a smaller country wanted to leave the EU, other member states wouldn't work so hard to get them to stay.

"You need to be among the five, six biggest countries" to be in a position to get concessions and special treatment from the other nations, as the UK has secured.

As a row over military training embarrassed Finns Party Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö, Essayah blamed "bad communication" from the Defence Minister's office for failing to inform MPs that American troops, F-15 aircraft, Stryker fighting vehicles and navy warships would be taking part in military exercises in Finnish territory in the coming months.

"We are NATO's peace-time ally. All these trainings were scheduled, but it was so poor communication" on the part of the Defence Minister's office, who didn't inform members of parliament's defence or foreign affairs committee about the imminent arrival of American military hardware. MPs apparently found out about the war games from the media.

Essayah argues that it would be inappropriate to cancel the training, even if it raises protests from neighbours Russia about NATO cooperation, as this would send the wrong signals.

"I'm pretty sure they have done everything correctly, they just forgot to tell the others", concludes Essayah.

Although the Christian Democrats are the smallest party in the Finnish parliament, with only five MPs, Essayah says their support has remained largely steady over recent years.

Citing the Finns Party's meteoric rise from just one MP in 1999 to 38 MPs today and part of the ruling coalition government, Essayah dreams that her party could also see an historic reversal of fortune.

"Miracles happen, even in politics."

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