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Social Democratic Party of Finland

The Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) is one of the most influential political parties in Finland. Some also debate that the SDP's influence is so extensive, that other polical parties are powerless to challenge it, and merely cooperate, whether they hold equal amount of votes or not.

Since the disastrous Civil War in Finland of 1918, SDP lost some of its support now on average gaining about one-quarter of the votes. The Social Democratic Party has about 59.000 members. Mr. Paavo Lipponen is party leader. Finland's President, Ms. Tarja Halonen, was SDP's candidate.

SDP won 53 of the 201 seats in Parliament in the elections held March 16th 2003, which ended in a very close run with the Center Party. As a result, SDP's chairman Paavo Lipponen has become the Speaker of Parliament, and the Centre-chairwoman Anneli Jäätteenmäki became Prime Minister for a coalition Cabinet where also the minor Swedish People's Party is represented beside the two major partners. SDP has eight portfolios in the Cabinet. After two months Jäätteenmäki was switched for Matti Vanhanen due to scandalous lies.

Note that despite the fact that "sosiaali" in Finnish has a long "a", the name of this party is spelt with a short "a", for historical reasons. The official name (as registered in Finland's party registry) is Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue / Finlands Socialdemokratiska Parti r.p.


SDP was founded in the 1880s, but came to remain a chiefly extra-parliamentary movement until the Universal suffrage of 1906, after which SDP's share of the votes and seats approached 50%. Unfortunately, the reform of the Parliament wasn't followed by Parliamentarism, why the party and its voters found themselves virtually without influence, despite the high turnouts. Inevitably this led to a decreased confidence in democratic methods and increased interest for the Revolution. After the two revolutions in Russia in 1917, the polarization between poor end wealthy in Finland grew even wider, and the support for revolutionary means increased rapidly - actually much faster than the party organization and the trade unions could follow. The Civil War in Finland followed in 1918, and resulted in virtually all party leaders on all levels becoming either killed, imprisoned or refugees abroad. In addition, the process leading to the Civil War, and the War itself, had stripped the party of its prestige, legitimacy, authority and respectability.

Refugee Social Democrats founded the Communist Party of Finland in Moscow in 1918. The split in the Finnish political left seems permanent.

It became the life's work of Väinö Tanner to regain the reputation as a housetrained party, capable of serious matters - as governing Finland. The result was a much more patriotic SDP, much less left-leaning, relatively isolated from its Nordic sister-parties. The political back-lash after the world depression following the Wall Street Crash 1929 would however postpone SDP's rehabilitation until after President Svinhufvud's term. With exception for a brief period in 1926, SDP was excluded from Cabinet participation from Oskari Tokoi's Senate's unsuccessful claim of Finland's independence in 1917 until Kyösti Kallio's precidency 1937. During World War II, however, the party played a central role in the government, symolizing the national unity in response to USSR's threat and the Winter War in 1939-40.

During the first months of the Continuation War (1941-1944) the country, the parliament and the coalition Cabinet was divided on the question whether Finland's army should stop at the old border and thereby demonstratively refrain from any attempts of conquests. The country's dangerous position called however on national unity, and the party's leadership chose to refrain from any visible protests. This decision is often indicated as one of the main reasons behind the increased and cemented weakness of the Social Democrats, and the high percentage of Communist voters in the first elections after the Continuation War. The other main reason being the rebellion 1918 leading to the Civil War in Finland.

After the Continuation War the Social Democratic party finally seemed to have become equally respected as any other party, although it remained obvious that the Soviet Union was more suspicious against SDP than against the "openly" bourgeois parties. In the presidential election of 1956, SDP's candidate Karl-August Fagerholm lost with only one single elector's vote to Urho Kekkonen.

Prominent Social Democrats

See also President of Finland, List of Prime Ministers of Finland