Finland’s Marine Le Pen

Reid Standish, Politico, January 29, 2018

Of the eight contenders to be Finland’s next president, none stand out quite like Laura Huhtasaari.

The candidate of the far-right Finns Party is an outlier in both style and substance. She won’t win Sunday’s presidential election but she’s using her time in the spotlight to push her party’s anti-immigrant, anti-establishment message.

She hates the European Union, cheered Brexit and supports Donald Trump — and believes Finland is more than ready for her brand of populism.

Huhtasaari, 38, is in her element on the campaign trail. Speaking in downtown Helsinki to a devoted crowd that braved the height of winter to hear her speak, she rolled out the greatest hits of her populist platform: ranting against a heavy-handed European Union that has turned “Finland into its province,” an out-of-touch Finnish political elite indifferent to the working class, and the perils of large-scale — mainly Muslim — immigration.

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“I’m here to remind people that the Finns Party is truly an alternative to the mainstream,” Huhtasaari told POLITICO in an interview. “I want to change the direction of Finland and take back our independence.”

Her strong comments about immigrants and homosexuality have broken the mold of Finland’s traditionally staid politics and her silver-blonde hair and bombastic speeches have earned Huhtasaari the moniker of “Finland’s Marine Le Pen” in the local press.

Laura Huhtasaari

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However, Huhtasaari has not let her candidacy go to waste. The inexperienced politician — she’s been in parliament for only three years — has used the national platform to prime the Finns Party’s base ahead of parliamentary and European elections in 2019 and regain momentum following its removal from the coalition government last summer.

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“Finland is a little bit late if you compare it to other European countries,” Huhtasaari said. “Anti-immigration parties are winning and people are waking up everywhere. They’re waking up now here, too.”

Huhtasaari’s style [remixes] Trump’s slogans to local versions — “Finland first!” “Let’s take Finland back!” {snip}

“She’s circulating the rhetoric of many other populist leaders,” said Tuija Saresma, an expert on right-wing populism at the University of Jyväskylä. “It doesn’t matter if what she says is true or not, her supporters still stand by her. This is a new phenomenon for Finland.”

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Halla-aho has a reputation for being the enfant terrible of Finnish politics, shocking the establishment in the past by describing Islam as a religion of pedophiles, saying that Somalis were genetically predisposed to theft, and that Greece’s debt problems could only be solved with a military junta.

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But while Huhtasaari and the Finns Party face a steep uphill climb, they’ve managed to have an effect on the election and Finnish politics at large. Years in government have allowed the party to pursue a stricter immigration policy, which in addition to Huhtasaari’s tough stance, has shifted the debate during the election. According to Johanna Vuorelma, editor-in-chief of the Finnish news site Politiikasta, the Finns Party has succeeded in moving the country’s immigration debate to the right, but has also given room for other candidates and parties to steal potential voters by adopting similar policies and rhetoric.

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