HELSINKI, April 15, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Finland’s Antti Rinne, the Social
Democrat leader who will now try to form a government after a slim election
victory, is a former trade union boss once known as the “labour market
gangster” for his fiery negotiating skills.
Aged 56, the silver-haired and serious-looking Rinne is no stranger to the
top of government, having become finance minister in 2014 when he deposed the
then leader of his party, Jutta Urpilainen, in a bitterly fought leadership
Rinne had strongly opposed Urpilainen’s decision to support the spending
cuts put forward by the then government coalition’s largest partner, the
centre-right National Coalition Party.
After scraping victory in the 2019 election by the narrowest of margins,
Rinne now faces the prospect of having to share a platform with the National
Coalition once again, although this time as the senior partner.
Ideological clashes over the need for more austerity — to which Rinne is
vehemently opposed — may well surface again.
Having won the leadership of his party in 2014, Rinne continued to block
any government attempts at austerity, although he led the Social Democrats to
a disappointing defeat in the 2015 general elections when the party was
relegated to fourth place behind the populist, then-eurosceptic Finns Party.
In opposition, Rinne’s party remained a strong critic of the spending cuts
regime imposed by Centre Party Prime Minister Juha Sipila.
Easing off on austerity was a central plank of the Social Democrats’
election campaign this time around.
If successful at forming a majority government, Rinne will now have to
embark on the difficult balancing act of making good on his promises to ease
the financial burden on groups such as pensioners, the unemployed and
students, while weathering a predicted economic squeeze.
Finland’s GDP growth is widely expected to slow down in the coming years.
– Heart scare –
In February, just two months before Sunday’s election, Rinne was placed on
a month’s sick leave after falling ill on holiday and suffering serious heart
In his absence the party was led by its deputy, the 33-year-old Sanna
Marin, who, as a young and dynamic woman, is in many ways Rinne’s opposite.
But he defied questions about his health to return to the election trail.
Prior to joining politics, Rinne was the president of a white-collar union
called Pro, where he was known for his stubborn and aggressive tactics around
the negotiating table.
His readiness to threaten strikes saw him branded a “labour market
gangster” by his opponents.
Yet the former union hard man also has a softer side, and enjoys playing
the piano and clarinet in his spare time, according to Finnish media.
A lawyer by background, Rinne was reported by the Finnish national
broadcaster Yle to have successfully finished his law degree, in Helsinki
during the 1980s, in less than half the usual time.