Apr 15, 2011

I Got Election - a brief guide to the Finnish parliamentary elections of 2011

This Sunday, the small and boring country of Finland convenes at its schools and other voting posts to elect a parliament. As I happen to live there, I thought I'd explain what's going on.

* The system *

Using the d'Hondt method of proportional representation, the Finnish people will elect 200 members of parliament from 15 electoral districts. One of them is the autonomous region of Åland, annexed by Finland against the wishes of its Swedish-speaking inhabitants in 1918 and an unwilling participant in Finnish politics ever since with its single representative in parliament. The other 199 are elected from mainland Finland. Last time around, in 2007, as much as 65% of the electorate turned up to cast almost three million votes.

After the elections, the party with the most seats in parliament is designated to form a cabinet. Normally, the chairman of that party becomes prime minister, and he puts together a coalition of parties to form a cabinet that commands a majority in parliament. Almost all cabinets are based around two of the "big three" parties, with assorted smaller parties tagging along to make up the numbers.

The Finnish political system is incredibly dysfunctional. All real political decisions are made behind closed doors by the leaders of the parties, who control their MPs' votes in parliament, although the Greens pretend they're different by allowing the occasional few to vote against the party line. As a result, the real mechanisms of Finnish politics are invisible to the public and impervious to their influence, except every four years when the voters effectively get to decide which member of the good old boys' club gets to speak a little louder than the others.

I'll describe each party in terms of their social attitudes (liberal - conservative) and economic policies (right-wing - left-wing). These are all terms that need to be taken in a Finnish context; for example, in the field of economic policy, all parties, including the ones described as right-wing, are generally committed to maintaining Finland's gigantic public sector, massive income redistribution through a Byzantine welfare system and huge agricultural and area subsidies. Similarly, most socially liberal parties will not be opposed to male conscription or favor the separation of church and state, to take a few examples.

In reality, the practical differences between Finnish parties, or at least the ones large enough to be taken seriously, are minute. For most of the 1990s, the country was ruled by the "rainbow cabinet" that included almost every party in parliament, including the extreme right and extreme left. Those two parties held the two treasury appointments. That they were able to do so in concert should really demonstrate to everyone one that Finnish politics is basically a sham to deceive people into thinking that the country isn't actually run by an oligarcy of civil servants and party bosses.

* The players *

Agrarian Party (Keskusta) - 50 seats

Officially named the "Center Party" or whatever, the Agrarians are just that, the largest party in every electoral district north of the back of beyond. They were the largest party after the 2007 elections, and were thus in charge of forming the current cabinet. It was headed by the former prime minister, who later met a woman on the Internet but lied that he'd met her in Ikea, and became embroiled in a scandal over election contributions to his party. He is generally considered to be guilty of blatant corruption, but no charges were filed because there is no corruption in Finland. He was eventually replaced by someone else.

The Agrarians are socially conservative and economically mildly right-wing. While their conservative roots might otherwise make them economically more right-wing, their only real agenda is pork-barrel politics: Agrarian MPs are elected from the rural districts on the understanding that they will maintain Finland's gigantic agricultural subsidies and bring a few infrastructure projects their district's way every now and then. As a result, Finland produces sugar and a huge surplus of food, and is decorated by several massive, beautiful bridges that lead absolutely nowhere. It is expected that the party will be somewhat hurt by the election money scandal, but in the end, the pork barrel will carry the rural field like it always has.

The Gathering (Kokoomus) - 51 seats

Yes, I know, they're officially the "Coalition Party" or something immensely boring like that. Frankly, a Highlander reference is much better. If you prefer the Dutch heavy metal band, that's fine too.

Currently in cabinet, the Gathering is socially slightly conservative and economically right-wing. Long the bastion of Finnish right-wing politics, the Gathering was out of power during the Cold War when Finnish politics were subject to Moscow's veto. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall they have wielded the sceptre of fiscal responsibility (in Finnish terms) as the only party to come out decisively in favor of combating Finland's burgeoning debt deficit with public sector cuts. Wikileaks would also have us believe that they plan to have Finland join NATO, but few people in this country will take an effeminate Swedish alleged sexual predator's word on anything. Nonetheless, passionately hating the Gathering is the favorite activity of Finland's red-green angry young people, who blame them for everything, which makes them Finland's equivalent of the Republicans or Tories.

When the 2007 election results came in, the Agrarians were the largest party in parliament with 51 representatives; the Gathering had 50. Since then, one of the Green MPs has defected to the Gathering, and the Agrarians lost the captain of Finland's national bobsleigh, erm, curling team to defection, making the Gathering currently the largest party. They're expected to stay that way, which means that in all likelihood they'll be in charge of forming the next cabinet.

Social Democrat party (SDP) - 45 seats

After their Soviet-backed Finnish communist revolution was defeated in 1918 by the simultaneous German-backed Finnish fascist revolution, those Social Democrats who hadn't either fled to the Soviet Union or been shot by the Whites in a concentration camp got down to the business of moderate left-wing politics. They like to claim responsibility for the Finnish welfare state, kind of like how the Russians have at some point claimed that every invention in the world was actually invented in Russia. The Social Democrats are to Finland's central labor union what Sinn Féin was to the IRA.

The Social Democrats are socially middle-of-the-road and economically left-wing. For a while, it looked like they were in danger of being usurped by the Green party after losing eight seats in the previous elections, but the economic crisis has seemed to revive the Social Democrats' flagging fortunes and they remain one of Finland's "big three" parties. Their main focus is on opposing public sector and welfare cuts.

Leftist Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) - 17 seats

After Finland lost the Second World War, the Soviet Union mandated that the previously banned Communist party be allowed to reform. It did so as the SKDL, which was the Moscow-based Finnish Communist Party's front organization in Finland, i.e. of the guys who fled to Moscow after the civil war. After the Soviets went the way of the dodo, the SKDL soldiered on and has since metamorphosed into a vaguely angry, anti-nuclear young leftist party run by a former football hooligan.

The leftists are socially liberal and economically about as left-wing as it gets, at least in parliament. Their fortunes have been boosted by the economic crisis and the blatantly dishonest nuclear policies of the Green party, which they oppose with dogmatic anti-nukeism.

Green Party (Vihreät) - 15 seats

The Finnish environmental movement started when some people chained themselves to logging machines or something back whenever, and they've since made the transition from a couple of eccentrics in cardigans to a major political party that's been in cabinet since the early 90's. Getting their hands on the reins of power has come at a price, and the Greens' critics accuse them of selling their principles. At the same time, their stand in favor of gay marriage and against racism has made the Greens to conservatives what the Gathering are to left-wingers: the fount of all evil. One particularly prominent Internet racist who's running for parliament maintains that Finland is actually run by a cabal of Green feminist women who are in cahoots with the liberal media.

The Greens are socially liberal and economically vaguely left-wing. The Green party is decidedly anti-nuclear, which has manifested itself in practice by them being in several cabinets that have voted to build more nuclear power plants. They also consider themselves social liberals, which is carried out in practice by voting for repressive Internet censorship laws and the right of employers to spy on their employees.

Swedish Party (Ruotsalainen kansanpuolue) - 9 seats

The Swedish party exists for the sole purpose of forcing Finnish schoolchildren to study Swedish and making sure Swedish-speaking Finns can waltz into any public facility in the country and demand service in Swedish. Swedish-speaking people vote for them.

The Swedes are socially liberalish and economically sort of right wing. In practice, they'll participate in any coalition government that maintains the status quo in language politics.

Christian Democrats (Kristillisdemokraatit) - 7 seats

Finland's version of Christian Conservatives, the Christian Democrats occasionally cause media outrage by being themselves. Last year, they triggered a mass exodus from the Finnish state Lutheran church by pointing out on state television that buttsex makes Baby Jesus cry.

The Christian Democrats are socially conservative, by which they mean that they hate gays, and economically middle-of-the-road. Religious loonies vote for them.

Finnish Fundamentalist Party (Perussuomalaiset) - 5 seats

The name of the party is actually quite difficult to translate. Last I checked, their official English-language name was "True Finns", which has probably been selected to imply an earlier Finnish political movement (aitosuomalaiset). "Perus" properly translates as basic or fundamental, as in basic course or fundamental principle. So in my opinion, it's either the Basic Finns or the Finnish Fundamentalist Party, and I prefer the latter. I also earlier suggested calling them the Base Finns.

The Finnish Fundamentalists are socially conservative and economically left-wing. The roots of the party are in an agrarian populist movement called the SMP, run by Veikko Vennamo back in the past. Their previous populist insurgency was headed by the late Tony Halme, better known to pro wrestling fans as Ludwig Borga, and yielded few results.

This time around, the Fundamentalists are still something of a protest movement, basically running on a platform of populism, disaffection with the larger parties, opposition to welfare cuts and jingoism. Their candidates include several members of a quasi-fascist organization called Suomen Sisu, dedicated among other things to preserving the racial purity of Finland, who have focused their energies on mobilizing Finnish racism into a political force euphemistically referred to as "immigration criticism". They are largely responsible for immigration being one of the major talking points of the election, and have brought about a situation where, in the middle of an economic crisis, one of their leading candidates refuses point-blank to even discuss economic policy, because he's only interested in the nefarious effects of African immigration into Finland. Among their other candidates is a Belgian holocaust denier who has confessed in public to enjoying prostitutes.

The Fundamentalists have also produced, among other things, a cultural program that calls for the elimination of state funding to "postmodern art" and the encouragement of patriotic art that celebrates Finnishness. They are also opposed to Finland's membership in the European Union, and development aid. As far as any economic program can be discerned, it is a broadly left-wing one, against cuts and in favor of increased taxation. Before the elections, the former captain of Finland's national curling team defected from the Agrarian party to the Fundamentalists, and proposed solving the economic crisis and the poverty problem by printing money.

In the 2007 elections, the Fundamentalist Party more than doubled their share of the vote, from ~1.5% in 2003 to 4%, netting a total of five seats. Since then, their popularity has skyrocketed with the rise of political racism and discontent with the ruling parties, to the point where the wildest opinion polls have them displacing one of the three major parties.

Other (Borgerlig Allians -yhteislista) - 1 seat

The representative from Åland. Damned if I know anything about politics in Åland. Hell, they don't even let mainland Finnish people buy land there without a special permit. For all I know, when the rest of us have elections, these guys re-enact the Wicker Man and have the guy with the best costume represent them.

* Also starring *

There's a whole melange of parties without representatives in parliament trying to acquire some. Here's a couple.

The Pirate Party

Judging from their election propaganda, the Finnish Pirate Party is in favor of smoking pot, ass-raping record executives and employing immigrant women as prostitutes. I'm a member, but having just written that, I'm not entirely sure why. I don't smoke pot, so it's probably the hookers.

The Independence Party

A rabidly anti-EU party that boasts several seemingly insane candidates dedicated to opposing the New World Order that threatens us all with gay marriage, hoaxed moon landings and chemtrails. It is actually so difficult to tell whether or not their candidates' blogs are parodies that I'm not sure this party actually exists.

The Finnish Workers' Party

An avowedly socialist party, the chairman of the Finnish Workers' Party participated in a "small parties'" debate on Finnish state television. The presenter described his party as representing Russian interests in Finland, and the chairman didn't contradict him. They boast such candidates as a Finnish vicar who is in favor of reintegrating Finland into Russia, and a Finnish academic who organized a rally opposing Sofi Oksanen's latest book because it was anti-Soviet. The rally was attended by him, a bunch of Putin-Jugend from Russia and the Finnish Islamic Party. Apparently the Islamic Party's chairman and the academic in question have the same KGB handler.

The Communist Workers' Party

The People's Liberation Front of Judea to the Finnish Workers' Party's Judean People's Liberation Front, the Communist Workers' party demands the introduction of a planned economy on Marxist-Leninist principles. I can't think of anything to follow that sentence with.

* Major talking points *

Here, at this virtual water cooler, I'll sum up what Finland is talking about leading up to these elections.

That Freedom Party woman who thinks the New World Order is poisoning us with chemtrails

Seriously, what the fuck.


The biggest hot-button topic of the election is immigration. Specifically, immigrants from Africa who are taking our jobs and raping our women, according to our vocal "immigration criticalists" (THEY TOOK OUR JOBS!). Now, even though immigration criticalitists insist that all Africans are criminals and all Arabs are terrorists and we mustn't let them into our country to sully our precious bodily fluids, you're not allowed to call them racists, so we have to call them immigration criticalizers.

For context, Finland has the least foreign-born inhabitants per capita of practically any European country. We also spend at most something like 1% of our state budget on issues related to immigration. So in terms of reality, this is a non-issue. However, through several blogs aggressively dedicated to the idea that all foreigners, or at least all differently colored foreigners, are evil, the immigration criticalizationists succeeded in making the impervious horror of immigration the mega-issue to end all issues of this election.

Previously, in the municipal elections, the simple device of running a blog that sensationalized crimes committed by foreigners and was rude about Islam propelled an obscure academic into the Helsinki municipal council with a landslide. Once in that council, he proceeded to do absolutely nothing about anything. He is the man who, in the middle of an economic crisis, refuses to answer questions about economic policy or the deficit, and in general seems to have no opinions on anything except that foreigners are unspeakably evil. And on that platform, he's practically a lock for parliament.

I genuinely believe that future generations of Finnish political historians are going to look at the early 2000's, when our state and economy are teetering on the brink of collapse, and then look at the issues we were spending our time on and wonder what the hell was wrong with us.

The rise of the Finnish Fundamentalists

The biggest talking point of them all is that according to the polls, the Fundamentalists may get big enough to actually factor into the cabinet negotiations. The craziest predictions at one point had them winning the elections outright, installing a Catholic populist with a nonsensical political agenda as our prime minister. In retrospect, that appears exaggerated, but it seems sure that their share of the vote will go way up from the 4% they drew last time.

In a way, the Fundies are like Obama: a hell of a lot of people seem to have an unreasonable faith in them being somehow different from other politicians. It's going to work out the same way.

The EU

What have they ever done for us anyway?


So there you go; you're ready for Sunday! As you watch the elections, remember that according to a poll, half of all candidates want to limit access to the dangerous and potentially lethal dihydrogen monoxide. No, really.

Good night, and good luck.


Aaro Sahari said...

Best post in a long time! I was laughing and crying – still am, actually. Damn, it's great to be a Finn.

stibe said...

Have to repeat the above: "Damn, it's great to be a Finn."