The Parliamentary Election of 1983
As is customary in Finland after a presidential election, the government resigned after Koivisto's victory in January 1982. It was re-formed the next month with the same four-party coalition (the SDP, Kesk, the SKDL,and the SFP) and many of the same ministers, with veteran SDP politician Kalevi Sorsa as prime minister. Two devaluations in October 1982, amounting to a 10 percent fall in the value of the Finnish mark, caused complaints by the SKDL that low-income groups were the main victims of this measure designed to enhance Finnish competitiveness abroad. The cabinet fell at the end of the year, when Sorsa dissolved it after the SKDL ministers refused to support a government defense proposal. Asked immediately asked by the president to form a new government, Sorsa did so, but with LKP participation and without the SKDL. The government's slender majority of 103 votes in the Eduskunta was not an important handicap, for new elections were scheduled for March 1983.
The election was widely regarded as a "protest election" because, contrary to expectations, the major parties, with the exception of the SDP, did not do well. The LKP lost all its seats in the Eduskunta, while the SMP more than doubled its seats, and for the first time the Greens had representatives in the chamber as well. The SMP's success was credited, at least in part, to voter distaste for some mainstream parties because of political scandals; no significant policy differences emerged in the election campaign. Another reason for the SMP gains was the increasing role of "floating votes" not bound to any one party. The SDP won fifty-seven parliamentary seats, the greatest number since before the war and a result of Koivisto's election to the presidency.
Seven weeks of negotiations led to the formation of a fourparty coalition composed of the old standbys, the SDP, Kesk, and the SFP, and, for the first time, because of its great success, the SMP. The protest party of the "forgotten man," the SMP was given the portfolios for taxation (second minister of finance) and for labor, with the aim of taming it through ministerial responsibility. Because the government, led by the SDP's Sorsa, had the support of only 122 votes out of 200, rather than the 134 needed to ensure the passage of much economic legislation, it might not have been expected to last long. It distinguished itself, however, by being the first cabinet since the war to serve out a full term. Its survival until the elections of March 1987 was an indication of a newly won stability in Finnish politics.
The Sorsa cabinet stressed the continuation of traditional Finnish foreign policy, the expansion of trade with the West to counter what some saw as too great dependence on Soviet trade, and the adoption of measures to reduce inflation. The economic measures of the Sorsa government were stringent and fiscally conservative. Public awareness of the necessity of a small exporting nation's remaining competitive allowed the adoption of frugal policies. The 1984 biannual incomes policy arrangement was also modest in its scope. The rival demands for the one for 1986 were less so, however, and President Koivisto had to intervene to ease hard negotiations. One segment of the work force, civil servants, won a large pay increase for itself after a seven-week strike in the spring of 1986. The government also brought inflation down from the doubledigit levels of the early 1980s, but it was less successful in lowering unemployment, which remained steady at about 7 percent.
Although the government was to be long-lived, it was not free of tensions. In January 1984, trouble erupted when its three nonsocialist parties made public a list of nine points on which they disagreed with the SDP. The issues were domestic in character, and they centered on such questions as the methods of calculation and payment for child-care allowances, the advisability of nuclear power plant construction, wage package negotiation methods, and financial measures to aid farmers and small businessmen. The storm caused by the document was calmed by the political skills of the prime minister and through a lessened adamancy on the part of Kesk.
Despite overall agreement on many major issues and the dominance of consensus politics in the governing of the country, the parties' struggle for power was nevertheless fierce. Attacks on the SDP by its coalition partner, Kesk, during 1986 were seen by some to stem from Kesk's desire for an opening to the right and for the eventual formation of a center-right government after the 1987 elections. The attacks, especially those of Foreign Minister Paavo Vayrynen, intensified in the late summer. The young Kesk leader particularly denounced Sorsa's handling of trade with the Soviet Union. Sorsa sucessfully counterattacked in the fall, which forced Vayrynen to stop his campaign.
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