Leader of Finland’s populists to quit in August

Jussi Halla-aho, the nationalist hardliner heading Finland’s populist Finns Party, will step down as leader in August, he announced at a press conference on Monday. 

The party has been an established force in Finnish politics for a decade, but with Halla-aho taking the helm in 2017 the Finns Party abandoned its more moderate eurosceptic agenda for a far-right, nationalist campaign.

They went on to win record vote shares in the 2019 general election but the party is in opposition, remaining a vocal critic of PM Sanna Marin’s centre-left coalition.

“I intend to continue what I’ve been doing for the last decade,” Halla-aho told a press conference, “to work to the best of my ability towards a Finland for the Finns, as an MP and Helsinki councillor.” 

In local elections this month Halla-aho received 18,500 personal votes, the largest haul of any candidate even if his party did not win enough votes in the city to snatch the mayoralty from the conservatives. 

Under his leadership the Finns Party called on people to “Vote for some borders” and pledged to reduce Finland’s asylum intake to “almost zero”. 

Party members also frequently decry the “climate hysteria” of other parties’ efforts to tackle global warming, and recently vehemently opposed Finland paying into the EU coronavirus rescue fund.

Hallo-aho has not given his reasons for stepping down, saying he would do so in a decade. According to media reports, he has contemplated the move for the past year and has previously spoken out against party leaders being in power for too long. 

His successor will be voted in at the party conference in August, with Halla-aho saying he hoped candidates will include “those who think the party’s current line is right as well as those who want to change it.” 

The 50-year-old former MEP, whose hobbies include astronomy and shooting, studied Russian at Helsinki University where he taught Old Church Slavonic before embarking on his political career.

While known for being softly spoken and awkward in the limelight, Halla-aho’s writing is more inflammatory — his star rose partly due to his explicit writings against immigration and Islam.  

Finland’s highest court in 2012 upheld a conviction against him for inciting ethnic hatred and blasphemy over a 2008 blog post in which he condemned Islam and described Somalis as living off taxpayers’ money. 

Halla-aho had pleaded not guilty, arguing that he had merely used sarcastic examples to highlight a “double standard” for what is allowed to be published in Finland.