Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Election Standards

The second round of the Finnish presidential election was held over a week ago, and I’m only now posting something about it (I’ve been tied up with other projects and chores).  Despite a buildup that included a lot of news coverage, one sedate debate after another, and a fair amount of political advertizing, the whole race seemed to be over in the blink of an eye.  Which it kind of was.  It started in earnest only in December, meaning it lasted all of two months, three tops. 

That’s nothing compared to the US election, which after almost a year into the Republican nomination process, is just now building up a good head of steam, with another seven months of grandstanding, self-serving rhetoric, and over-inflated egos to go.

President-elect Sauli Niinistö
Photo by Soppakanuuna
Finns don’t much go in for American-style glitter and flash, especially in politics, so voters here were spared the Hollywood game-show veneer that campaigning has taken on in the US.  Also, there was none of the negative advertizing that I’ve heard so much about bombarding American TV viewers this campaign season.  And no demagogy – just imagine!  (Well, I can’t say for sure whether there might have been some demagogy on the part of the True Finn’s candidate Timo Soini’s, but I feel sure it never reached US standards.) 

Another amazing feature of Finnish elections is how fast the votes are counted, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising in a country of just over 4.4 million voters.  Still, considering that in America you often hear the election results only the morning after (or in a certain famous case back in 2000, a full month later), it’s amazing how fast it all gets done here. 

Forty-five minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m. on Election Day two Sundays ago the outcome was clear.  The entire tally had been completed in a little over two hours, and well before bedtime the official results were announced, both candidates interviewed on TV, and the whole thing wrapped up.  And keep in mind, these are paper ballots they’re counting.  By hand.  Nothing electronic.

Still, perhaps the most glaring difference between elections here and in the US is the money.  The Helsingin Sanomat reported that Sauli Niinistö’s campaign spent something like 1.2 million euros ($1.6 million) to win the contest.  That’s considerably more than the 710,000 euros that Pekka Haavisto had at his disposal, even after an almost 3-fold boost in donations in the last two weeks of the race, including 80,000 euros raked in by a one-time comeback concert put on by the hugely popular band “Ultra Bra”. 

Pekka Haavisto, Green Party candidate
Photo by Soppakauuna
Compare all that to the roughly $220 million (€165 million) that has been spent in the US presidential race as of December 31, more or less evenly divided between the Democrats and Republicans.  And the race is far from over.  It’s expected that President Obama’s campaign alone will eventually raise a record-breaking billion dollars.  As everyone knows, everything is bigger in American.  Still, whether or not a cool billion is an obscene amount of money, it’s certainly mindboggling, and not just by Finnish standards. 

This Finnish presidential race, though dull by US standards, was more electrifying than recent races.  Niinistö’s win with nearly 63% of the vote would be seen as a landslide in the US, where margins are often very narrow.  But in Finland, voters have almost always rewarded career politicians, like Niinistö, who’ve spent decades paying their dues within one of the mainstream parties.  Over the years, Niinistö has held various high positions in government, almost won the presidency when he ran six years ago, and continues to be popular, so he probably seemed like the most obvious choice for many people.  

Against that background, the fact that Haavisto inspired enough support to force Niinistö into a second round of voting is impressive enough.  The surge in Haavisto’s funding surely helped his campaign, as well as the use of social media by his supporters, such as a flash-mob video posted on Youtube. 

For a first-time candidate from a minor party, and one who’s openly gay (which even in Finland might turn some voters off), Haavisto’s 37% share of the final vote is totally respectable.  That doesn’t mean it’s any less of a disappointment for his supporters, which seemed to have included most people I know (my neighborhood went 40% for Haavisto).  My daughter said she and all her friends would have voted for him if they had been old enough, which should give Haavisto some solace.  Six years from now, with the younger generation coming of age, the outcome might be very different. 

1 comment: