As I mentioned in my last post, I’m preparing to vote in Finland’s parliamentary election for the first time.
the past, I haven’t honestly paid enough attention to national politics here to
have a clear idea which party would be my natural political home. In
the US binary system of Republicans versus Democrats, my choice has always been much more clear cut. For someone who is severely liberal, as I like to think
of myself, there is only one way to go.
Finland, however, with almost 10 viable parties, some more major than others,
I’ll have to give the matter a bit more thought.
past city council elections, I’ve voted for the Green Party, out of – if nothing
else – a vague sense of shared philosophy and the hope that it could
affect more eco-friendly policies at the city level.
course, when it comes to the broader national government, there are other
issues beside waste disposal or public transport to consider.
often seems that Finland is a very consensus-based country, with no contentious issues seriously polarizing the population. For example, unlike in the US where the two parties are
diametrically opposed to each other on government’s role in health care (the
Republicans vowing time and again to roll back Obamacare), no credible party in
Finland, on the left or the right, would advocate anything as radical as
dismantling the state-run healthcare system.
be sure, there are differences between Finnish parties on other issues, for which the
two parties in the American system would be practically indistinguishable, such
as the role of capitalism in the economy. (Despite what a Tea Partier would
tell you, Democrats are no socialists.) I assume the tiny (only 0.05% of the vote last time) Communist Workers’ Party –
For Peace and Socialism (that’s its name, Kommunistinen
Työväenpuolue – Rauhan ja Sosialismin Puolesta) truly does want to toss
capitalism onto the dustbin of history. You can’t say that about Hillary Clinton.
this Finnish election cycle seems unusually lively, with more placards along
the roadside, advertisement on buses, commercials on TV than I ever remember seeing
before. Perhaps it’s just because I’m trying to pay more attention, but my
sense is that this election is seen as more crucial than most.
my command of Finnish still isn’t up to following the political discussions on
TV or even always in the print media, my impression of the issues that might
make this election so urgent (or seem so urgent) is a bit vague, and perhaps
the top of my head, I can think of three.
can’t say whether Finns vote with their pocketbooks any more than anyone else,
but the economic situation of any country is always an issue. And the situation
in Finland isn’t sterling at the moment. In fact, it’s dismal.
currently stands at a tad over 10%, not the highest it’s been since the start
of the Great Recession, but still up two percent since the last election four
years ago and three percent since the summer. Clearly, not a good trend.
has been in a recession off and on for the past seven years, with seven
quarters of negative growth (out of 15 reported so far) since the last
election. Projections for the next couple of years are for weak growth, at
best. Though Finland still retains a AAA credit rating from Fitch and Moody’s,
it lost the top rating from Standard & Poors in autumn, sending a minor shock
wave through the government.
recent blog post by Edward Hugh, a Welsh economist and blogger, paints a very
dire picture of the future Finland is facing due to something called “secular
someone like me, who is not an economist and barely a blogger, Hugh’s erudite thesis
requires a bit of digestion.
two readings, what I was able to gleam (or so I think) from it is that the
runaway success of Nokia, the bellwether of the Finnish economy back in the
pre-crisis glory days, distorted the national labor market (by inflating
incomes) to the point that Finland now finds itself uncompetitive against its
main trading partners.
combination of that with a growing population of aging pensioners and a
shrinking population of working-age folks threatens to make economic stagnation
a permanent feature of Finnish life. That is, at least, without some unpopular
and unpleasant changes in government policy, especially related to labor.
Hugh’s post has affected the election campaign in any way, I can’t say, but another
economics assessment certainly did create some waves. It was related to another
big issue in this campaign – immigration.
in any country, immigration is a touchy issue here. With Finland’s climate,
difficult language, and the current state of the economy, you might wonder
there would be any rush to migrate here in the first place.
said, some 32,000 people moved here in 2013. That’s the highest yearly
influx ever, though that’s still only 0.6% of the population (one-fifth of the
per capita legal immigration into the US). It has changed Finnish society, no
doubt, though to what degree or to what lasting effect might be debatable. Many
people I know see immigration as having a neutral or mostly net positive
impact on Finnish life.
would disagree. And those Finns who feel uncomfortable, even hostile, over the prospect
of more immigration have increasingly been drawn to the xenophobic Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset), which upset the apple cart of Finnish politics in the last election with its unexpected success
in parliament, boosting the party's presence from 5 to 34 seats.
Since then, the Finns Party doesn’t seem to be softening its stance any on
immigration. A paper by a think tank associated with the party made headlines
recently when it claimed to show how much immigrants from different countries
cost Finnish taxpayers, with those from war-torn third-world nations (Iraq
and Somalia, in particular) not faring well at all by comparison. Even if the numbers
crunched in this analysis are valid, breaking down the cost of immigration
along ethnic or nationalistic lines unfortunately adds an element of divisiveness into the
election. Which, I guess, was largely the point.
Finns Party is also strongly Eurosceptic, which brings us to the last big issue
in this election, Finland’s relationship with the EU, Russia and NATO. Well, actually, relations with the EU isn't a big issue. My
impression is that support for the EU is still strong among most Finns, despite complications with Greek debt and Russian sanctions.
A major issue that wasn't even on the horizon four years ago is relations with Russia. In the marathon TV debate Thursday night between leaders of the eight major parties, I kept hearing the word "venäjä" repeated over and over.
Russia's annexation of Crimea and sable-rattling elsewhere, especially in the Baltic Sea, has also breathed some life into the perennial, but usually peripheral, question of
whether to join NATO.
The current Prime Minister Alexander Stubb and many in his
National Coalition Party support NATO membership. Most Finns (57%) still oppose it,
though with Russian nationalism and military adventurism on the rise, support
for joining the Western alliance has increased to 27% from 16% about four years
NATO will surely be one of those issues on the minds of
voters this Sunday, though there are many others. Which can make choosing the
right candidate or party a challenge, especially for me.
there is a tool called a Vaalikone
(“Election Machine”) published by the Helsingin Sanomat, to help you gauge which is
the correct party for you. It’s a questionnaire, covering the economy, laws,
society, and world affairs, that attempts to match your views to the positions of different parties. Several of the 30 questions have to do with
the role of government in social services and the balance between environment
and business. And naturally, there are questions about NATO, the EU, and
immigration, but also about the government regulation of taxis, apparently
inspired by Uber. That’s an issue I didn’t see coming.
I’ll also be surprised by the results I get from the Vaalitkone. We’ll see,
though I'm pretty sure the “machine” won’t be telling me I should be voting for
the Kommunistinen Työväenpuolue on
Sunday. Too bad for them. They could probably use the votes.