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Cablegate: Finland Election 2007

VZCZCXRO1067
RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHHE #0172/01 0681312
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091312Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3057
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 4689
RUEHRK/AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK 0292

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HELSINKI 000172

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL FI
SUBJECT: FINLAND ELECTION 2007

REF: A. HELSINKI 150

B. HELSINKI 94

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: For months, both the polls and
conventional wisdom have suggested that Finland's Center
Party (CEN) and Social Democrats (SDP) will finish one-
two in the March 18 elections and return to government.
In the final weeks of the campaign, CEN has indeed
consolidated its lead, but the SDP has suffered major
public relations damage, thanks to a union-sponsored
public service ad. History and bureaucratic advantages
still favor the Social Democrats' getting themselves
into government, but for the first time the slim
possibility of an upset has emerged. End Summary.

2. (SBU) For more than 60 years, it has been something
of a foregone conclusion going into any parliamentary
election that the SDP would emerge as the driving player
in the resulting coalition government, regardless of who
might actually win a plurality of seats. A series of
historical and bureaucratic advantages have accrued to
the SDP over the decades, allowing the party a certain
pride of place -- some opponents even criticize it as a
self-ascribed "divine right" -- regarding its persistent
presence in government (Ref B). Throughout the current
campaign, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's CEN has
appeared likely to win a plurality at the polls, but
this long-standing conventional wisdom regarding the SDP
has led most to assume it will take a strong, if not
dominant, role in a new CEN-SDP government.

A PR DEBACLE
------------
3. (SBU) However, in these final two weeks before the
election, the SDP has suffered an unexpected public
relations disaster. In late February, the "allegedly
apolitical" Finnish Confederation of Labor Unions (SAK)
began running "allegedly apolitical" get-out-the-vote
public service messages on TV and in print urging all
Finns to exercise their civic duty. The ads, however,
featured an obese, elderly, smirking, "bourgeois" tycoon
sitting in luxurious surroundings before a glutton-like
spread of food and liquor. Aloof and arrogant, he
sneers, "No, don't go out and vote -- just let me decide
everything for you."

4. (U) By US standards, not remotely an offensive
advertisement -- but in Finland it provoked an uproar.
Editorial pages and talk shows brimmed for days with
angry attacks accusing the SAK of classism; ageism;
anti-bourgeois scare tactics; anti-entrepeneurism;
gluttony; poor taste; elitism; and even attempts to
recall the bitter social divisions in Finland that
followed the 1918 civil war between the Communist "Reds"
and the land- and business-owning "Whites."

5. (U) Accusations also abounded that the SDP -- and
particularly Party Leader Eero Heinaluoma -- was behind
the ad. In theory, the SAK is independent. However,
its members overwhelming vote SDP and several leading
SDP politicians (including President Tarja Halonen)
first rose to prominence within the SAK. Heinaluoma was
Secretary General until only four years ago, and he owes

SIPDIS
his rapid rise as party leader to the SDP's powerful
labor wing. Given this close association with SAK,
Heinaluoma was quickly accused of underwriting the
offensive ads, intensifying an already-negative public
image that the SDP leader and de facto PM candidate has
been unable to shake. He has not confirmed or denied
involvement with the ad -- a wise move, one prominent
commentator noted, given that even if he had nothing to
do with the ads, no one would believe him. For its
part, SAK responded humbly and contritely (and some
argue brilliantly), withdrawing the ad and issuing in
its place a spot that apologized for any offense and
simply encouraged people to vote.

Conservative Momentum; SDP Malaise
----------------------------------
6. (U) The nasty ad is gone, but the damage is done.
The first major poll following the ad's release,
commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, showed
CEN likely to attract 24.6 percent of the vote, followed
by the SDP at 22.6 percent and the Conservative Party
(CONS) at 21.9. Based on a 2-point margin of error,
CONS and SDP are now in a statistical dead heat. Only
six weeks ago, CEN and SDP were statistically tied for
the lead, with CONS trailing by more than five points.
The Conservatives' gain (or the SDP's loss, depending on
one's perspective) is the result of many factors,
including the return of Sauli Niinisto as a CONS

HELSINKI 00000172 002 OF 002


candidate and Heinaluoma's aforementioned failure to
develop any personal rapport with voters. But no one is
discounting the SAK ad either.

7. (SBU) An SDP failure to get into government would
still constitute a major upset by any measure, but for
the first time there are whispers both inside and
outside the party that the possibility exists. CONS
candidates, who a month ago were talking even in public
of perhaps returning to government in 2011, suddenly
feel a bit of wind at their backs. As one candidate
told us, "Second place was the SDP's to lose -- and
maybe they've actually gone and done that." On the
other hand, a certain malaise has crept into the SDP
camp. Although still confident of their inherent
advantages, SDP politicians acknowledge that nothing
good can come of the SAK flap or of Heinaloma's enduring
unpopularity. FM Tuomioja -- the closest thing the SDP
has to a "superstar" in the electorate's eyes -- even
lamented recent developments to the Ambassador. "It is
no longer a sure thing that my party will get into
government. I'm just focusing now on getting myself and
maybe a few others into parliament," he said, referring
to the SDP's high expectations for his coat tails.

COMMENT: HEDGING THE FINAL BET
------------------------------
8. (SBU) The SAK ad disaster and the narrowing of the
gap between CONS and SDP has injected a note of
excitement into the campaign. However, long-time
observers caution that the polls always tighten as
election day nears, and the safe money is probably still
on CEN to win; SDP to place; and CONS to show. If this
is the case, the return of a CEN-SDP led coalition seems
likely. Still, the slim possibility of a surprise or
even an upset -- either at the polls or in the coalition
negotiations -- has become real for the first time. If
CONS overtakes the SDP or even draws to within a
parliamentary seat or two, all bets on what follows in
terms of the new government could be off.
HYATT

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