Sunday, April 9, 2017

Helsinki Votes: Not So Marginal Leftists

There are four parties in the Helsinki city council race that can be described as “leftist”. The two that I’ve talked about already I called “marginal”, as in totally insignificant. The remaining two are anything but. 

The biggest of these, the Social Democratic Party of Finland (“Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue”, or SDP) is one of the nation’s three bellwether parties. Of the four presidents who have been in office since I first came to Finland in 1982, three have been Social Democrats, including Finland’s first woman president Tarja Halonen. 

I’ve always imagined the demarit, as they are nicknamed, sit somewhere between capitalism and actual communism, with strongly pro-labor values, but with no intent of imposing on Finland anything like a dictatorship of the proletariat. 

No similar party of any note exists in the US, certainly not the Democrats. Of all America's household-name politicians, only Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders self-identifies as a Social Democrat, which makes him an outlier in American mainstream politics. Here, he’d be the mainstream. 

Until 2004, the SDP was the second biggest party in the Helsinki city council, behind business-friendly Kokoomus. Since then, it’s often come in third place behind the Greens. And so it was in the last election, in which the party won 15 seats (Kokoomus 23 and Greens 19).

This time around it’s fielding 127 candidates. 

The SDP list. "Anna ääni kaupungille!" ("Give a vote to the city!")

To the left of the SDP, but smaller, is the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto), which currently has nine seats in the 85-seat city council. 

The Left Alliance was founded only in 1990 (compared to 1899 for the SDP), and my impression is that it rose from the kind of messy splitting and merging of various leftist parties that leftist parties everywhere seem to be known for. Think of the old Monty Python joke in “The Life of Brian” – where the bitterest enemy of “the People’s Front of Judea” other than the Romans were, naturally, “the Judean People’s Front”, if not "the Popular Front of Judea".  

While a truly “leftist” party, the Left Alliance is not fringe by any means. Its 29-year-old leader, Li Andersson, has been prominently featured on all the public-affairs shows and televised political debates, something the small Communist parties can only dream of. 

The party currently accounts for about 6% of the national parliament, and for a while even occupied a cabinet seat in the government's famous “six-pack” grand coalition a few years back. Chances are that won’t happen again any time soon, but keeping its seats in the Helsinki city council is a much surer bet.

The 127 Vasemmisto candidates for the Helsinki city council. 


  1. "Its 29-year-old leader, Li Andersson, has been prominently featured on all the public-affairs shows and televised political debates, something the small Communist parties can only dream of."

    A little accidental objectivity there. Business/capitalism rules the roost, even in Finland.

    The Greens are not considered leftist? I haven't seen the Green platform of Finland's party, but I have seen the USA version's platform and it's what I would call leftist.

    You are right about Bernie Sanders. He had the kind of message I had been waiting to hear all of my life from an American elected official. Alas, the corrupt and poisonous DNC shouldered him out of the way. What a vile and pernicious system we have here in the States.

  2. I don't think "Business/capitalism" has anything to do with the two Communist parties not getting much airplay. They're tiny, minuscule. The Communist Workers' Party got only 702 votes in the whole country. The other one got more, a bit over 7500, but that was still only 0.3% of the total vote. Li Andersson's Left Alliance, by comparison, got a respectable 8.8%.

    Anyway, the TV shows I'm talking about are mostly on the state-run, commercial-free YLE stations, so I don't think business interests factor into it.

    As far as I know, most people I know voted for the Greens, as I did.