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Juniper Berries, vol. III

Waking Up in a Different Country

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by , 18 Apr 2011 at 6:53 am (1489 Views)
So we had the 36th parliamentary election of our history yesterday, and yes, the end result does surprise me.

Finland has a unicameral parliament of 200 representatives, with elections every fourth year by default. For the elections, the country is divided into 15 electoral districts, and the seats for each district are assigned according to the so-called d'Hondt method. This system has produced a multi-party system, where the number of major parties is typically three or four and there is also a handful of minor parties represented.

Since the downfall of the Finnish communist movement, which began well before the first signs of the fall of the Soviet Union, three major parties have dominated the politics of the country:

the Centre Party, with strong roots in rural Finland and moderately leaning towards the political right;

the National Coalition, representing domestic financial capital, well-paid city people and, increasingly, pro-globalization values, while still willing to keep up many aspects of the Nordic welfare state (so much so that a U.S. Republican might call them socialists); and

the Social Democrats, most closely connected with the better-organized and relatively well-paid slice of the working class, which has grown to resemble the traditional lower middle class in surprisingly many ways.

In my lifetime, I have seen the rise of the Finnish Greens from an obscure marginal movement into a striving lesser political power with three minister posts in one of the latest cabinets. The Finnish political life tends to change slowly. More than once polls suggested a breathtaking victory for the Greens, but the most dramatic change that ever actually took place was from 4 to 10 seats in 1991.

This time, there were great expectations -- and fears -- concerning the True Finns, a populist protest party fueled by growing anti-immigration and anti-globalization sentiments as well as general frustration caused by traditional Finnish politics. The meaning of the party's Finnish name is closer to something like 'Regular Finns' or 'The Everymen of Finland', but the choice of the apparently mismatching English translation may be intentional.

In the past three elections, the True Finns won 1 seat, 3 seats and 5 seats, respectively; and the highest number of representatives that their predecessor, the Finnish Rural Party, ever had was 18 in the early 1970s. As much as I had time to follow the polls during the winter, I expected the True Finns to score some 20 or maybe around 25 seats, a large portion of their supporters betraying them in the last minute and opting for the familiar choices or staying at home. That would have been enough to make the major parties' leaders piss their pants, perhaps leading to the formation of a cabinet with all three united. The True Finns would have become a formidable opposition power for a while, but with few realistic goals to achieve from that position, would have dropped back after four years.

Today I woke up in a different Finland. The True Finns have received a total of thirty-nine (yes, 39!) seats, beating the Centre and becoming the third largest among the now four major parties. The leader of the Centre has already announced that they want to lick their wounds in the opposition, which strengthens the standing of the True Finns even further.

My attitude is far from supporting the True Finns, but I have maintained that the old parties deserve a lesson. They have been too cowardly to address the problematic side of immigration and globalization, not only because anyone pointing out problems outright caused by newcomers in our society easily gets the racist label, but also because openly analyzing these huge changes in the world around us would force politicians to admit other unpleasant truths. Namely that part of the problems linked with the free movement of people and capital cannot be solved -- they are trouble, but the best we can do is to learn to live with them. Furthermore, that part of the trouble is caused by us Finns ourselves, and not only those who support True Finn populists, and thus we need to take a look at the mirror. And finally, that any way we look at it, to deal with this trouble we need more money and effort than any group in power is willing to throw in.

Well, now we have a rapidly rising new group in power that claims to seek simple solutions -- straightforward solutions a regular Finn can easily comprehend.

All I can do is wish that the older parties and the intelligentsia of my homeland will get more creative after this. If they keep to the notion that honesty equals political suicide, the True Finns may truly bring about a dark era of xenophobia and hate.

Wikipedia: Finnish parliamentary election, 2011

Updated 18 Apr 2011 at 7:31 am by Katajainen

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Comments

  1. hinarei's Avatar
    thanks for the rundown, Katz. This has been a very interesting read. Speaking from my own country's standpoint, ideologies change every so often, but we tend to stick with the same parties for some time until they get tired. It has been evident that both our major parties, Conservative and Labour, aren't very different from each other if the last 30 years are much to go by.

    Change is good, if only as you note to give established order a kick and reinvigorate the political process. Getting rid of dead wood can lead to the wrong people being appointed in particular positions, of course, but if incumbents don't move out, there's unlikely to ever be much progress.

    That's a massive swing and sounds like it's surprised most commentators as well as yourself. I hope this isn't a mistake for Finland, but at least it's refreshed things for the time being. I also hope that their solutions aren't implemented as simply as you portray them, but that there's the transparency necessary to show things are being done the right way.
  2. Katajainen's Avatar
    After long and complicated negotiations, Finland has gotten its first ever peace-time six-party cabinet. The True Finns and the Centre Party are staying in opposition, and all other parties have gained minister seats.

    The rightist National Coalition is leading the government, the Social Democrats have the second most power, and every minor party of the parliament (eduskunta) has some kind of supporting role -- including the Left Alliance, the increasingly green-left heir party of the communists. (The communists were major players in Finnish politics after the war and until the 1970s, in an atmosphere very different from today. Many older Left Alliance politicians still find any cooperation with the leading capitalist party most difficult to swallow.)

    These are interesting times, I must say. And probably hard times for the countryside, since all the strongest voices speaking for rural Finland are now outside the cabinet.
    Updated 24 Jun 2011 at 1:47 am by Katajainen
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