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A political startup. A political, market-liberal movement that is not a party. Policy reformer. These are the words used to describe a new movement, Liike Nyt (Movement Now), which has received a great deal of media exposure in the past fortnight in Finland. Hardly ever has anyone with such small input gained as much of a voice, writes the political editor Yrjö Rautio, in Helsingin Sanomat. Why in the whole world has a single Member of Parliament, who has not been sitting for more than three years, received so much publicity, asks Hufvudstadsbladet. Mundus investigates what the noise regarding Liike Nyt is all about?
Based on the media coverage you would think that there was a great revolution in politics, but actually the only thing that happened was that Harry ”Hjallis” Harkimo, formerly of the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus, Kok), left his party and announced that he had founded a new movement, called Liike Nyt together, with a few other influencers. Many politicians and reporters responded to the announcement with sarcasm about Harkimo’s plans. But Liike Nyt has received great media attention since the first news about the movement came out on April 18, 2018. In just two weeks, over 8000 people have announced their interest in participating in the political activity on Liike Nyt’s website.
Digital platform for citizens’ voice
Harry Harkimo, who entered the politics as a celebrity having made his name as a prominent businessman, sports investor and professional sailor, explained the reasons for his departure from Kok’s were the party leadership’s authoritarianism and differing views within the party. ‘He has teamed up with the former party secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SD) and a former Managing Director (vai CEO) of the Finnish national broadcaster YLE, Mikael Jungner. Harkimo underlines that he is not aiming to start a new political party, but a completely new way of making politics. Liike Nyt introduces new modes of action in politics and increases transparency. Jungner says that existing parties and political culture need a shake-up. Liike Nyt wants to create a digital platform for dialogue-based decision-making with its own actions, where the best argument wins. The other founding members of the new movement are a communications professional, Sarian Antila; the founder of Slush, Helene Auramo; journalist and debater, Tuomas Enbuske; researcher Karoliina Kähönen, and entrepreneur Alex Nieminen.
Even though the founders have been in front of the media day after day during the past weeks explaining the motivations behind the movement, the overall picture of its operation is still difficult to perceive. The essence of Harkimo’s criticism of the political system and decision-making revolves around the perception that each party has its own main target audience. The SDP still see themselves as the champions of the workers, Kok strikes a chord within the business community, the Centre party still builds on its agrarian past and the voices of the regions, while the Green League (Vihreät, Vihr.) mainly targets the urban sustainability consciousness. ”But employment, business and environment are examples of issues that concern everyone. Thinking in target groups is old fashioned,” Harkimo claims, explaining ”When the policy is aimed uniquely at the parties’ target groups, it leads to situations such as the reform of the social welfare and healthcare structure, which are not good for Finland as a whole, but perhaps for the Centre and the Coalition Party separately.”
Liike Nyt claims that parties are an old-fashioned way of doing politics. Harkimo points at President Sauli Niinistö who appointed a constituency association in the last elections. Likewise, France’s president Emmanuel Macron set up La République en Marche to signal a fresh outlook and a new way of doing politics, and in Italy, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has developed strongly. ”I am currently trying to arrange a meeting in Italy. I want to know more about the Five Star movement. But not so much their policies, but how they communicate with the people,” says Harkimo. Jungner describes Liike Nyt as more like Wikipedia or Airbnb than a traditional party.
The 8000 people who have given their name and email address will be included in forthcoming debates on the website of Liike Nyt. The idea is that general questions on topical issues will appear on the site. Below them there is a controlled debate area and a vote in which citizens can express their views on the political theme raised. Voting and discussion can be accessed by registering by e-mail. Later on, the political themes presented by the site will be initiated in two different perspectives. Two experts compile the opposite viewpoints. They are column-based texts, serving as a keynote speech, Jungner says. According to Jungner, the site is initially a kind of channel for exchanging ideas between MP Harkimo and the public. For example, Harkimo’s vote on the social welfare and healthcare reform (SOTE) in the summer may find its final shape on the basis of ”interaction” with citizens. Harkimo will draw his own conclusions based on the results of the vote and then vote in Parliament’s plenary session, either in accordance with the results or in contrast. If Harkimo votes differently than people on the site, he writes on the site why he did so.
The main goal of the website is to create a dialogue between citizens and MPs. That is why Jungner hopes that as many politicians as possible will be enthusiastic about trying out the platform and using it as a tool for decision-making. The founders see it as a value chain, in which an individual citizen is at one end, and the Prime Minister, or other decision-makers, at the other. It is a service, which comes next to the parties, but is faster, easier, more direct and efficient. According to Jungner, the overall picture will becoms clearer as the movement proceeds. ”It is still difficult to say what this will develop into. It is a risky project of which success depends on a large number of Finns,” Junger says in Iltasanomat. Liike Nyt’s starting point is, however, fundamentally clear by its founders. Decision-making must change from the present, and the public’s interest in politics, especially the young and the ”sleeping”, must be restored. ”Politics is at present, slow, ideological quarrelling,” Jungner says. Also, the idea that citizens could use the site to open their own political career has been discussed. The premise, however, is that the Liike Nyt is not a party, but a movement that promotes policy. We are not tied to any particular party or political colour,” Jungner says.
Will a policy reformer become a policy maker?
Notwithstanding the aversion towards stressing specific political themes, certain values are named on the movement’s website: climate change, care of those in weak position, market economy and entrepreneurship. Someone might see a slight contradiction between the values and, for instance, the current, mainly consumer-based market economy being partly to blame for climate change. Some have been amused by the whole fuss about the new movement. The reality though is that in a very short time 8,000 people have shown interest in a new way of doing politics. In a survey carried out by Taloustutkimus and Iltalehti, 25 percent of respondents reported that they might vote for Harkimo’s popular movement in the 2019 parliamentary elections. Finland’s proportional representation will however make it challenging for the movement. Although Liike Nyt has no intentions of becoming a party, it does not rule out the possibility of going to the polls through constituency associations. In order to form a constituency association for the parliamentary elections 100 people entitled to vote in the same constituency are needed.
The founding of the Liike Nyt and the related Harkimo resignation from the Coalition Party attracted strong criticism both in the party and the media. In his own comment, Timo Haapala, the editor-in-chief of Ilta-Sanomat’s political sector, characterised Harkimo’s transfer as a ”narcissistic farce play”, in which businessman Harkimo is unable to accept the operational model of the political machinery. The Green MEP, Ville Niinistö questioned the need for ”middle class and in particular middle class men’s rebellion,” while seconding Harkimo in the need for change in the political system. The project of Harkimo, Mikael Jungner, Tuomas Enbuske and their partners does not offer much new coverage, writes Helsingin Sanomat. Rather, the business is like an old English bride whose wedding dress has something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue – in rhyme blue is a symbol of loyalty.
There has been debate on the provisions Liike Nyt and party funding on Twitter. According to the law, the party may not receive more support from the same sponsor than €30 000 per calendar year. For comparison, €30,000 is only a fraction of the budgets of major Finnish parties. Harkimo tells that he has funded Liike Nyt’s operations for the time being entirely by himself. The €30,000 limit does not apply to the party’s close community.
Finland has a fragmented party system with a large number of parties, while at the same time it is very crowded in the political centre. According to Professor of Political Sciences, Tapio Raunio, from the University of Tampere, a newcomer has two practical ways to stand out from the others. The first way is to make a clear ideological difference to others. ”We are missing, for example, a clearly right-wing party in terms of economic policies, which means that there would certainly be space. However, it is a different question whether there is such a demand. Another way to distinguish oneself is not to challenge any party ideologically but rather to swim in the opposition against the current party politics. ”With their emphasis on a new way of making politics I could imagine that the more diverse people Liike Nyt is able to get on their bench, the more likely it is that it chooses the latter option, because then the people who make up the movement are ideologically different, Raunio says. In the early stages, the movement has been marketed as a policy reformer. According to Raunio, it is also airing similar criticisms towards other parties as the True Finns did at the time of their spectacular rise a few years back. Raunio stresses that for the sake of democratic transparency, if the movement is now present in the elections, it must have a program, i.e. clearly set ideological goals. Just to talk about renewal is not enough.
But who could the movement threaten? Some experts believe that Liike Nyt is a potential threat to Kok, and that, as a new policy approach, it could also attract voters of the Green party. Others name also the Social Democrats and the Centre. The international betting company Betsson believes that Liike Nyt will register as a party for the parliamentary elections next spring. 5,000 supporters are required to set up a party, and Liike Nyt already has 8000 interested. Columnist Aki Pyysing predicts in Betsson’s release that Liike Nyt could at best get a few seats in Parliament and stay in the opposition as a mini movement without much power.
The rise of the populist party the True Finns in 2009-2010 started a change in the traditional Finnish political dynamics. The carousel of the three traditional big parties – two in the government, one in opposition – became impossible. At the same time, new forums became medias for practicing politics. Harkimo, Jungner and their partners are exploring the potential of their success. Time will tell whether a group of experienced media profiles turn out to be just that – media spin – or if it will indeed challenge the existing party political system. At least their project could be seen as a sign of the strength in free Finnish society and democracy: everyone has a chance to try and experiment. In authoritarian countries and dictatorships there is no such possibility. The words of party and party politics are currently shaken throughout Europe: established political parties’ confidence has been shaken and movements against the traditional party politics have emerged. The value of Liike Nyt is in the discussion it has raised.