World

Finnish election heats up after attack on minister, controversial video

The head of Finland's nationalist Finns Party says a campaign video showing a monster threatening a politician was not an incitement to violence, following an attempted attack on the foreign minister during the weekend.

Finns Party rejects notion its ads connected to attack on Timo Soni

A man is detained Sunday at a country fair in Vantaa, Finland, after an alleged attempt to hit Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/Reuters)

The head of Finland's nationalist Finns Party said Monday that a campaign video showing a monster threatening a politician was not an incitement to violence, following an attempted attack on the foreign minister during the weekend.

The video was released by the anti-immigration party four days before Sunday's attempted attack on foreign minister Timo Soini by a man wearing the logo of a right-wing, anti-immigration group at a campaign event near Helsinki.

Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho told Finnish news service Lannen Media on Monday his party's video did not incite political violence and would not be pulled. "As far as I know, it has not been and it will not be shelved," Halla-aho said.

Finland holds a general election on April 14.

Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini is seen after the attempted attack. Soini used to belong to the Finns Party, which is on the defensive in some quarters over its heated rhetoric. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/Reuters)

The video depicts a monster — described by the video's narrator as the incarnation of people's anger — who kidnaps an unnamed corrupt leader to force him to repent his actions.

At the end of the video party chairman Halla-aho, an anti-immigration hardliner who was fined by the Supreme Court in 2012 for blog comments that linked Islam to pedophilia and Somalis to theft, addresses viewers directly.

"If you want change, you have to vote for change. Use your power," he says in the video.

Speaker concerned by heated rhetoric

A political columnist for Finnish tabloid Iltalehti called the campaign video "a life-threatening game," adding it "crossed a line which any Finnish party bearing responsibility for maintaining civil peace would not cross."

Parliament speaker Paula Risikko, while not addressing the advertisement directly, said he was worried by political rhetoric: "Lies and juxtapositioning are fuel for political violence. They should be regarded with corresponding gravity."

Soini, himself a former leader of the Finns Party, split from the group in 2017 to form a separate conservative party.

Jussi Halla-aho said Monday it was offensive to try to connect the attempted attack on the minister to his party. (Markku Ojala/EPA)

A man is in custody for Sunday's threat to attack Soini. Halla-aho called the case "extremely regrettable," but added: "At least just as regrettable is the fact that there are attempts to connect the incident with the Finns Party."

The Finns Party, which opposes immigration, won 17.7 per cent of the vote in elections in 2015 under Soini's leadership, becoming part of the ruling coalition for the first time.

After the split in 2017, Halla-aho and others left government, while Soini remained in the cabinet as leader of his new group, Blue Reform.

Politically motivated violence has been rare in Finland, where politicians, including ministers, often meet voters without extensive security.