Is Finland a democracy

Background current

In the Finnish parliamentary elections on April 14th, the Finnish Social Democrats narrowly won the neck-and-neck race against the right-wing populist party, the Finns.

The Finnish Parliament in the capital Helsinki with the monument to the Finnish Prime Minister and President Pehr Evind Svinhufvud (1861-1944) in the foreground. Photo taken on May 11, 1997. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The Finnish Social Democrats (Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue) became the strongest political force in the newly elected Finnish parliament (Eduskunta) in the parliamentary elections last Sunday with 17.7 percent of the vote (+ 1.2%). They won 40 of the 200 seats and thus achieved their first election victory since 1999. However, they could only prevail with one seat ahead of the right-wing populist party the Finns (Perussuomalaiset), which received 17.5 percent of the vote (-0.2%) and thus received 39 seats.

The leader of the Finnish party, Jussi Halla-aho, was delighted with the good performance of his party, which, according to Halla-aho, no one in his party had expected. In the last polls before the election, the Eurosceptic party, which had made migration policy its central election campaign topic, was still well behind the Social Democrats.

The third strongest force was the National Assembly Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus), which received 38 seats in the new parliament. At 17.0 percent, however, she suffered a slight loss of votes (-1.2%). The losers in the election include the Finnish Center Party (Suomen Keskusta) and the Blue Future (Sininen tulevaisuus), which together with the National Collection Party formed the last center-right government.

The Center Party was clearly punished. It lost 18 seats and was only the fourth strongest party with 13.8 percent of the vote (-7.2%). In 2015 she won the parliamentary elections and, with Juha Sipilä, was the prime minister. The Blue Future, split off from the Finns in 2017, received only one percent of the vote and is no longer represented in parliament.

Another winner is the Green Bund (Vihreä liitto), which won 20 seats or 11.5 percent of the vote (+ 3.0%) with its campaign focused on climate change. 8.2 percent of the voters (+ 1%) voted for the left alliance (Vasemmistoliitto).

Also represented in parliament are the Swedish People's Party (Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue) and the Christian Democrats (Kristillisdemokraatit), who, as in the last legislative period, will have 9 and 5 seats respectively.

Difficult government formation

The Social Democrats and their party leader Antti Rinne, as election winners, have a prerogative to form a government. The upcoming coalition negotiations are likely to be difficult, however, as all parties have received less than 20 percent of the vote and a left party alliance does not have the required majority of 101 seats in parliament.

Like most of the other party leaders, Rinne has for the time being ruled out a coalition with the right-wing populist Finns, who will move into the new parliament as the second strongest force. The National Collection Party, under the leadership of the former Finance Minister Petteri Orpo, thus becomes a possible coalition partner for the Social Democrats. Commentators currently consider a coalition of the Social Democrats, the National Collection Party, the Greens, the left-wing alliance of the Swedish People's Party, to be the most likely.

In view of the opposing ideas of the Social Democrats and the National Assembly Party about the future structure of public finances and economic policy, however, the success of the relevant coalition negotiations is by no means certain. While Rinnes Social Democrats want to raise taxes in order to expand welfare services, Orpo's National Collection Party is in favor of stimulating the national economy through tax cuts.

Nevertheless, Orpo signaled a cautious willingness to compromise on Tuesday evening. According to Orpo, it is possible for his party to participate in a government coalition as long as a "realistic understanding of the state of the national economy" can be agreed.

The Center Party said that it would probably not want to participate in a government coalition because the voters had not given them a government mandate. In response to the poor election result, former Prime Minister Sipilä announced that he would step down as party leader in early September.

The governing coalition collapsed five weeks before the parliamentary elections

Finland has been ruled by a center-right coalition since 2015, which from 2017 consisted of the Finnish Center Party (Suomen Keskusta), the Blue Future (Sininen tulevaisuus) and the National Collection Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus).

The government fell apart on March 8th over major health care reform and social reform. According to the plan, new regional provinces should take responsibility for the provision of health and social services from the municipalities.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Center Party) repeatedly referred to the so-called SOTE reform as a core project of his reign. However, he did not succeed in winning a majority in parliament before the regular end of the legislative period. Until a new government is formed, however, the old government under Sipilä remains in office. The date for the parliamentary elections on April 14th had already been set.

The most important topic in the election campaign was health care, which, according to a survey by the daily Helsingin Sanomat from the beginning of February, played a role for 55 percent of those questioned in their voting decision, followed by the topics of work, climate, public finances and immigration. The topic of health care gained political relevance last year after journalists discovered that the conditions in facilities of private care companies were sometimes unreasonable. The failed health reform should also help to regulate responsibilities in this area.

Split in the right-wing populist spectrum

In the 2011 parliamentary elections, the Finns achieved an electoral success that was recognized throughout Europe for the first time when they became the opposition leader in parliament with 19.1 percent. As of 2015, the party was the third largest force in the center-right government for two years. That changed when Jussi Halla-aho was elected as the new chairman of the Finns in June 2017.

A government crisis arose as Prime Minister Sipilä refused to work with Halla-aho, who is considered a eurosceptic right-wing hardliner. The Finns split up: while the old core party went into opposition, the more moderate MPs distanced themselves from their party and remained in the government as the "blue future".

Political system

Finland is a parliamentary democracy with elements of a presidential democracy. The president is elected directly by the people every six years. A one-time re-election is possible. As in Germany, the Finnish President primarily has a representative function. Nevertheless, he has a say in parts of foreign policy and is commander in chief of the armed forces. In addition, it formally appoints the Prime Minister previously elected by Parliament and the cabinet members proposed by the Prime Minister. Sauli Niinistö (National Assembly Party), the former President of Parliament, has been President since March 1, 2012. In the last presidential election on January 28, 2018, he was re-elected for a further six years.

The powers of the Finnish Parliament include, above all, legislative functions and the approval of the state budget. The unicameral parliament is elected every four years according to a regionally structured proportional representation system. All Finnish citizens who are at least 18 years old are eligible to vote. The country is divided into 13 constituencies, each of which - depending on the proportion of the population - can send a certain number of members to parliament. The sparsely populated Lapland, for example, only elects seven MPs, while the capital Helsinki can elect 22 MPs. A total of 200 seats will be allocated in parliament.

In each constituency, the parties draw up lists of candidates. Each voter has one vote with which he elects a candidate and his party list. The votes cast are then converted into mandates in the constituencies according to the D’Hondt procedure. There is no nationwide threshold clause, but within the constituencies there are arithmetical limits on the voting shares that parties have to skip in order to get a seat.

Finland takes over the EU Council Presidency in July

In the 2011 parliamentary elections, the Finns achieved an electoral success that was recognized throughout Europe for the first time when they became the opposition leader in parliament with 19.1 percent. As of 2015, the party was the third largest force in the center-right government for two years. That changed when Jussi Halla-aho was elected as the new chairman of the Finns in June 2017. A government crisis erupted as Prime Minister Sipilä refused to work with Halla-aho, who is considered a eurosceptic right-wing hardliner. The Finns split up: while the old core party in Finland is in the focus of international attention not only because of the upcoming formation of a government, but also because Finland will take over the EU Council Presidency in July. Juha Sipilä assured that he would continue to accompany the preparations for the Finnish Council Presidency and, if necessary, would lead Finland into the EU Council Presidency as acting Prime Minister if the formation of the government was not yet completed by mid-July.

In terms of content, Finland wants to support the "basic values ​​check-up" proposed by Germany and Belgium in the EU - an annual assessment of all European countries with a view to the common basic values. With this new checking mechanism, so the proposal, it should be recognized earlier whether individual states are moving away from democratic and constitutional structures. Opposition went, the more moderate MPs distanced themselves from their party and remained in the government as the "blue future".


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