The impact of Finnish parliamentary election results on prostitution policy
Finland has suddenly become a front page topic throughout the European media, after the result of parliamentary elections in late April. While polling data in the final weeks of the campaign hinted at the prospect of the populist True Finn Party making substantial gains in voter support from it 4,05 % result in 2007, few expected that nearly one in five Finnish voters would side with a party so openly critical to the EU, in favor of substantially stricter immigration policies, and rethinking language policies that have afforded Swedish a guaranteed place alongside Finnish. With the True Finns now the third largest party in the Finnish parliament, many international observers are keeping a close eye on how the presence of this far-right populist party on the Finnish political stage will have an impact on policy.
Yet, behind these headlines, the 2011 Finnish parliamentary elections were also of great significance for those with an interest in prostitution policy. Dr Anna Kontula, a well-known critic of the Swedish ban on the purchase of sexual services, and one of the key epistemic actors who lobbied against proposals that Finland should adopt a Swedish-style policy in 2006, has been elected to the parliament as an MP for the socialist Left Alliance, a party that has a track record of initiatives on behalf of criminalization.
Kontula was the only Left Alliance candidate elected from Pirkanmaa electoral district, preventing former Left Alliance MP Minna Sirnö from being re-elected to her third term in the parliament. A member of the Legal Affairs Committee in 2006, when the Swedish-style proposal was fiercely criticized and eventually altered to a compromise, Sirnö played a visible part defending the original version of the Finnish sex purchase ban. The Legal Affairs Committee had turned its back on the general criminalization of the purchase of sexual services, opting for a compromise limited to criminalizing the purchase of sexual services from victims of human trafficking or pandering. In the subsequent first hearing, Sirnö then proposed that the government’s original criminalization bill be adopted. Although the large majority of the Left Alliance supported Sirnö’s proposal, she lost the vote in the Parliament.
As far back as 2001, the Left Alliance had already adopted an official stance supporting the criminalization of the purchase of sexual services as one way to reduce international trafficking in women. Moreover, the re-elected chairman of the Left Alliance Parliamentary Group, Annika Lapintie, put forward an initiative in 2004 calling for a general criminalization of the purchase of sex. This initiative was co-signed by several MPs from the Left and the Greens of Finland, and was later addressed as part of the governmental bill resulting in the current sex purchase ban. Another Lapintie initiative urged the government to take actions in criminalizing the purchase of sexual services in 2002, and was cosigned by 99 female and male MPs across party lines. Thus, keeping in mind these actions taken by Left Alliance’s MPs, it will be interesting to see what impact Kontula’s election has for both prostitution policy preferences both within the Left Alliance and the Finnish Parliament.
The current sex purchase ban has been criticized for its inefficiency since 2006, and the increased media attention on prostitution in the last year resulted in Ministry of Justice Tuija Brax (The Greens of Finland), also chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee in 2006, to suggest a possible revision of current legislation. After the Greens’ defeat in the elections in April, with party leader Anni Sinnemäki admitting the party would be in the opposition in the new parliament, it appeared that prostitution policy would no longer be Brax’s headache.
However, the political balance in Finland has shifted for the second time in a few weeks. Soini’s announcement in early May that the True Finns would enter into opposition in the new parliament, after rejecting an economic rescue package for Portugal supported by the National Coalition Party and the Social Democrats, one might say that the opposition is getting mighty crowded. The Center Party and the Greens pronounced already on the election night that the great loss of seats in the parliament would drive them to opposition. Still, the National Coalition Party leader Jyrki Katainen spoke out on his wish to form a coalition government together with Social Democrats, Swedish People’s Party, The Christian Democrats and the Greens. Now, the Left Alliance has also joined the negotiations.
Further, if the Christian Democrats are to take a seat in the future government, the party leader Päivi Räsänen is likely to have an influence on how Finnish prostitution policy is to develop. Räsänen put several initiatives to curb the commercial sex industry in Finland in the 1990s and 2000s, and defended the criminalization of purchase of sexual services to the bitter end, together with Sirnö. However, Räsänen simultaneously proposed a criminalization of sale of sexual services as well as the purchase. One might also speculate whether the Social Democrats re-entrance to the government will lift prostitution policy once again to the political agenda, and what impact the Left Alliance will play in the government to be.
The elections also increased the number of MPs with backgrounds in police force in the new parliament. In preparing the current legislation on purchasing sexual services, expert opinions from law enforcement units were very critical towards such a ban, as were those MPs who had served in law enforcement. Of course, one cannot necessarily argue that policy stances can be inferred from one’s occupational background. Nonetheless, the increase in the number of police officers raises the prospect that this group of anti-criminalization MPs may be further strengthened.
All told, while Finnish politics may be living in interesting times in general, the composition of the players in the recently elected Finnish parliament suggests that the debate over regulating the commercial sex industry could take on equally interesting, and not easily predicted, dimensions.
Pia Levin & Gregg Bucken-Knapp
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