Friday, May 8, 2015

Losers and Winners

It’s been 19 days since the Finnish parliamentary election, and there is still no government in place. At least, not quite. This isn’t unusual. 

And, I should point out that by "government", I mean "cabinet". The actual functioning bureaucracy of government is still there, intact. 

Compare this situation to the US, where you have a built-in two-month lag time between the election of a new US Congress and its actual installment in the Capitol. For presidential elections, the constitutionally decreed “lame-duck” period between election and inauguration is even longer.

Though we’ve still been waiting for the final makeup of the new Finnish government, the results of the vote itself were clear within hours of the polls closing at eight three Sundays ago.

As was widely expected, the business-friendly Kokoomus party, the biggest in parliament going into the election, lost its dominate position, apparently the victim of general voter dissatisfaction over the anemic economic recovery (if it can be called that). In its place rose the Keskusta (Center) Party, the party of the legendary Urho Kekkonen who presided over Finnish politics for a quarter of a century during the Cold War.

Keskusta, led by self-made millionaire Juha Sipilä, won 21.1% of the vote nationwide, giving it 49 seats in the new parliament, a huge increase of 14 from four years ago. Keskusta took most of those seats from two parties: Kokoomus and the Social Democrats, which got 18.2% and 16.5% of the vote, respectively. It was an especially hard blow for the SDP, since its loss wasn’t so widely expected. They were blindsided.

One especially bright spot in the election was the five seats picked up by the Greens, bringing its representation up to 15.

Still, the headline news was the “rise”, relatively speaking, of the anti-immigration anti-EU Perussuomalaiset party. I say “relatively” because the 17.6% of the vote garnered by PS meant they actually lost one seat, ending up with 38. The level of support for PS didn’t change significantly. PS was propelled into the Number Two position simply by the collapse of Kokoomus and SDP.

(The fact that PS came out one seat ahead of Kokoomus despite getting a half-percentage-point fewer votes is down to the D’Hondt method used to allocate seats.)

Voter turnout, despite the apparent huge interest in the election, was a somewhat disappointing 70.1%.

And now another inevitable comparison to America: turnout in the US mid-term election of 2014 hit a scandalous post-war record low of 36.4%. Okay, mid-term elections always attract fewer voters than do presidential races, but even in the 2012 vote – in which many conservative zealots I know lusted for the chance to turn Obama out of office — only 58% of Americans bothered to vote. Some democracy. 

Meanwhile, back in Finland, turnout was higher in Helsinki than for the nation overall (almost 75%), and I was pleased to see that my neighborhood did even better, with a turnout of 82.4%.

The earnest voters of this part of suburban Helsinki, where I live and voted myself, went overwhelmingly (almost 40%) for Kokoomus, followed by SDP (16%), the Greens (15%), PS (12%), and in fifth place, Keskusta (only 9%). In fact, Keskusta won only 7% of the vote in Helsinki overall, showing that there is something to the idea that Keskusta is still mainly a party of the countryside.

Since Keskusta's big election night victory 19 days ago, Juha Sipilä has been trying to put together a coalition from among the biggest winning parties, apparently a meticulous process of negotiation. There’s been lots of speculation about who will be included in the new government. The biggest worry among more mainstream establishment types is that, with its second-place finish, Perussuomalaiset will now demand a prominent role in the cabinet, something they didn’t seemed inclined to do four years ago.

With the announcement yesterday of an agreement finally being reached, those fears were proven to be well founded. The next government will indeed be a mashup of the rural Keskusta party and the more nativist Perussuomalaiset party, joined by Kokoomus, though this all remains to be formally finalized next week. 

The SDP was left out completely, as was the smaller, moderate Swedish People’s Party, which has had a role in every government for almost forty years.

The question now is how well will the Perussuomalaiset handle being in government, as opposed to just sniping at it. 

1 comment:

  1. Actually, D'Hondt can't give more seats to a party less voted for: a larger vote count divided by a common ordinal is still larger than a smaller one.
    The disparity was likely because of quantisation errors due to districting. PS simply had a more optimal division of votes, getting them where they counted more.

    My concern is the economy and the people living under it. I don't have any confidence that Kokoomus (or Sipilä) understand (or care about) the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics. It's all about demand and getting people back to work. Cutting the budget is going to be counterproductive in that sense. Euro and the European austerity movement isn't helping anyone (except the rich) in this regard either.

    My hope is now to see the unions force EK (what's the translation here?) to be patriotic for once and get companies to hire more people and invest in Finland, but I'm not sure EK even has the mandate to negotiate something like that. Besides, it would cut profits in the short term, so it's not likely to happen even if the government gets involved, which won't because of Kokoomus (and probably Sipilä). So, yay for doing stupid things.