Hardline nationalists pushed out of Finnish government

True Finns party splits following election of anti-immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho as leader

Juha Sipila
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila
(Image credit: HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA/AFP/Getty Images)

Finland's governing coalition has narrowly avoided collapsing after a political crisis triggered by the election of an anti-immigration hardliner to lead the nationalist True Finns party.

The Eurosceptic party has announced it will split in two, sidelining its previous leadership and ending four days of "high drama", the Financial Times reports.

How did the crisis start?

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Events began when True Finns MEP Jussi Halla-aho won an overwhelming majority in Saturday's leadership election.

The politician, who was found guilty of hate speech in 2012 after comparing Islam to paedophilia, was a deeply unpopular choice among his centrist partners in the three-party coalition and moderates in the group refused to work with him.

It led Prime Minister Juha Sipila to warn the power-sharing deal could collapse.

"We already had to stretch our common values to the extreme and now the differences in values are even bigger," he said.

The True Finns entered government as the second-largest party in 2015, alongside Sipila's Center Party and the pro-EU National Coalition Party, but have struggled to push through their legislative agenda.

What happened next?

Following days of crisis talks, the True Finns announced that 21 of its 38 MPs would split from Hallo-aho and his top team and form a new coalition with the remaining parties.

Simon Elo, chairman of the breakaway New Alternative group said the decision would "likely ruin our political careers... but we are determined to do this... for the right reasons".

Sipila, who was preparing to formally declare the collapse of his coalition when the announcement was made yesterday, said: "The government crisis has now been cancelled."

Why does it matter?

"The split between hardliners and more moderate members of the nationalists was the latest in a series of blows to Europe's anti-establishment parties," Reuters reports.

Bloomberg correspondent Leonid Bershidsky says the situation is "further proof that populists can't govern" in western Europe. "The unsuccessful government experience of the True Finns is in line with the results of experiments elsewhere in trying to integrate such parties into mainstream politics," he says.

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