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I am afraid I am not providing a live blog in this second round of voting. It would have been a surprise of earthquake proportions for Pekka Haavisto to beat Sauli Niinistö, and that earthquake has not happened. Voting closed just over ten minutes ago at 20.00 Finnish time and the results of advanced voting and the first election day counts have come in. With around 53% of votes counted, Sauli Niinistö has 65,5% of votes and Pekka Haavisto has 34,5%.
Whilst Haavisto was never going to truly challenge Niinistö for victory, this has been a special turning point of an election. A Green reached the second round sending a powerful signal in a society still partially shaken by the success of True Finns in April 2011′s parliamentary polls, a Social Democrat will not be elected president for the first time in three decades. It’s also historic in that Niinistö will win with the greatest level of popular support since the president was chosen by direct voting.
Sauli Niinistö, of the moderate conservative National Coalition party, will be sworn in as President of the Republic on 1 March 2012. You can expect his first foreign visits, almost certainly to Sweden and then later to Estonia as per tradition, shortly afterwards.
The final margin of Niinistö’s victory will become clear when all the votes are counted, which should be at or just before 22.00. If you want to follow the full results, you can do so on the Justice Ministry’s website here: http://126.96.36.199/TP2012K2/e/tulos/lasktila.html (in English language)
Update 20.38 Yle, the public service broadcaster, has just announced its forecast for the final result: Niinistö 62,9%, Haavisto 37,1%. Not a bad result for Haavisto considering his background, party, and the popularity of his opponent.
Update 20.40 It is now impossible for Haavisto to win. Even if all the existing votes that are uncounted were for him, there simply wouldn’t be enough votes to bridge the gap between him and Niinistö. 81,7% of votes are now counted.
Update 20.55 Turnout in this election is low – only 69%, but with large variations in different regions. The Finnish-speaking countryside has the lowest turnouts. Weather has been bad and these areas strongly support the Centre party, and thus perhaps have little motivation to scrape the ice off of the car to go and vote in this contest.
Update 22.30 100% of votes have been counted. The final result is:
- Sauli Niinistö 1 802 400 votes, 62,6%
- Pekka Haavisto 1 076 957 votes, 37,4%
Finland’s new prime minister, the national coalition party’s Jyrki Katainen, made his first foreign trip to Sweden yesterday. In Stockholm he met with Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Reinfeldt and Katainen have known each other for many years as they were both active in their respective parties’ youth organisations at roughly the same time. Reinfeldt heads Sweden’s Moderate Party, our western neighbour’s ideological equivalent of Katainen’s party.
Following their meeting, the pair hosted a press conference at Rosenbad, the Swedish government’s press centre. These two prime ministers, both of countries which have Swedish as their official languages, conducted it in English. I think it is fair to guess that this was not at Reinfeldt’s insistence. There is something very strange about the Prime Minister of the bilingual Finland choosing to speak English at a press conference with a Scandinavian neighbour. Can you imagine the Canadian prime minister visiting Paris and not conducting matters in French? It would be simply unthinkable.
Speaking afterwards, Katainen explained that he likes the Swedish language but that in such a situation he preferred to speak English because he had not given Swedish the time he should have earlier in life. He stressed that no symbolism should be read into his choice of language in Stockholm. Yet, how can one not see any symbolism? The Prime Minister of a bilingual country can not even manage to speak one of its official languages in a press conference in a Nordic context? Embarrassing at the very least. The assembled journalists must have certainly thought it odd.
In fairness to Katainen, he has notably made an effort to communicate in Swedish during last months electoral campaigning and government negotiation process here in Finland. His Swedish is not particularly good, but he has improved it since taking the chairmanship of his party. So, it is difficult to really argue that he has an utterly negative attitude towards Swedish as a language or to the people that speak it in this country. That said, he has been absent in any loud criticism of his party’s youth wing which is increasingly anti-Swedish (and anti-immigrant) in its attitudes. Above all, it is a sad day when a Finnish prime minister can not communicate with our Nordic neighbours without having to resort to a foreign language.
Yesterday, exactly two months to the day since the parliamentary election on 17 April, Finland’s government negotiations finally concluded. The moderate conservative Kokoomus party, the Social Democrats, Left Alliance, Greens, Swedish People’s Party, and Christian Democrats finally came to agreement on a government programme. The leader of Kokoomus, Jyrki Katainen, is now set to become Finland’s next Prime Minister.
The new government programme is marked by many compromises. It is a broad coalition of ideologically diverse parties that Katainen has been forced to sow together after the success of the True Finns, and their massive gain in seats, in April’s election.
The Swedish People’s Party (SFP) will get the positions of Defence Minister and Justice Minister. Party chairman Stefan Wallin will fill the defence portfolio, whilst the parliament member from Jakobstad and current chairman of Folktinget (the Swedish Assembly in Finland) Anna-Maja Henriksson will lead the Justice Ministry. She is also a lawyer by education. These are heavy-weight portfolios and give SFP more influence than in the last government. Defence will ensure that Wallin is able to protect the Swedish-speaking Nylands brigad when necessary defence budget cutbacks are announced. Justice also has a role in linguistic policy, in e.g. courts and administrative district reforms. Henriksson’s ministry will also be responsible for the shaping of the reforms of Åland’s autonomy, which is expected to be expanded during this government’s mandate.
SFP has also managed to ensure that much of the action plan of former President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Martti Ahtisaari on how Finland’s bilingual nature will be strengthened is included in the new government’s programme.
Naturally, the most important mission for the new government will be to balance the economy. This is going to mean cut-backs in many areas. It will be interesting to see if this does not lead to conflict between the individual parties as they try to limit the extent of these cut-backs to areas that particularly effect their electorate or the areas covered by their ministries. It could be a bumpy ride, in spite of yesterday’s agreement on a comprehensive government programme.
Pictured: Anna-Maja Henriksson (SFP), Finland’s incoming Justice Minister
Government formation negotiations, Wednesday evening update
The Social Democrats and the Left Alliance have walked out of negotiations to form a new government, following 17 April’s parliamentary elections. According to Yle, the two parties could not agree with the others on economic policy matters. The moderate conservative Kokoomus party is leading discussions as the largest party. Kokoomus party chairman Jyki Katainen has said he will contact the Centre party already today to see if they are interested in joining negotiations with the remaining parties at the table, Katainen hopes now to form a non-socialist government comprising of his own Kokoomus, Centre, the Swedish People’s Party, and the Christian Democrats.
The Centre Party has previously made it very clear that it would sit in opposition during this parliament after it received a drubbing in the April elections. It remains to be seen as to whether Centre will do a U-turn and say yes to entering government (or at least the negotiations to form one).
Another risk is that the second place Social Democrats try to take the lead in forming a government. Some SDP voices have previously noted that they regretted that the True Finns were not going to sit in the coming government. SDP and True Finns share many similarities in economic policy, an area that will dominate this parliamentary term due to the global economic situation. It’s unlikely, but could the worst case scenario involve Timo Soini’s True Finns sitting in the next Finnish government after all?
23.52 100% of votes are counted in the election for Finland’s 200-seat parliament.
Kokoomus, the National Coalition party (moderate conservative) 20,4%, 44 seats
Social Democratic Party 19,1%, 42 seats
True Finns 19,0%, 39 seats
Centre 15,8%, 35 seats
Left Alliance 8,1%, 14 seats
Greens 7,2%, 10 seats
Swedish People’s Party 4,3%, 9 seats
Christian Democrats 4,0%, 6 seats
Other (Åland’s parliament member), 1 seat
Turnout was 70,4%.
- The big news of the night is that the True Finns have performed at the top end of expectations, winning over 19% of votes. A record-breaking 15 percent increase on their performance in the last election. Timo Soini’s populists will certainly be invited to government formation negotiations. Will they even be in government?
- The conservative National Coalition Kokoomus are the largest party in parliament for the first time in history. Party chair Jyrki Katainen is likely to be Finland’s new prime minister.
- The Social Democratic Party has come second. Will it enter government together with Kokoomus?
- The Centre Party have had a terrible election. The party of Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi have lost over seven percent of the electoral share compared to 2007.
- The Swedish People’s Party has had a good night. In an election with a high turnout, something that usually negatively effects SFP, the party has managed to retain all of its mandates. Apart from the True Finns, SFP is the only party not to have lost seats in parliament.
That is the end of this live blog, thank you for reading it. You can find full results in English from the Ministry of Justice’s results service here.
23.49 Counting in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district is complete, the largest and last district to finalise counting. Timo Soini, chair of True Finns, beats Alexander Stubb (Kokoomus) by around 2000 votes to be the vote king in Nyland (and the entire country). SFP manages to hold onto its three mandates – the sitting SFP parliamentarians have been returned.
23.44 It looks like Astrid Thors will take SFP’s seat in Helsingfors/Helsinki. Interviewed on Yle, she says that the other government parties have acted wrongly in their lack of meeting populist immigration critics head-on. Thors has had to bear the brunt of much populist hatred due to her position as Migration Minister. She reminds us that there are 80% of the country who do not want to have the True Finns politics.
23.23 Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb tops Kokoomus’ candidates in Nyland/Uusimaa, beating his party chairman and leading candidate for Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.
23.19 Only 100 votes between Astrid Thors and Jörn Donner in the battle for SFP’s mandate in the capital city. Too close to call.
23.03 Is this the sixth or seventh election in a row that the Centre party has gone backwards in support asks Professor Göran Djupsund in Yle’s coverage.
22.59 Can the True Finns really sit in government together with Kokoomus? True Finns made a big issue of EU support to Portugal in their campaign. They were strongly against giving Finnish tax-payers money to another country that “had not taken care of its economy”. Kokoomus’ chairman, current Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, has advocated Finnish support for the EU crisis package to member states in economic trouble. Can either party really make the U-turn required for them to be able to govern together?
22.55 A cartoon in Vasabladet shows an SFP ladybird (the party’s logo) thanking the True Finns and the Finnishness Association for the help in the election campaign. It seems that the strong anti-Swedish feeling that the True Finns have blown up has motivated Swedish-speakers to vote for SFP.
22.52 SFP’s chairman Stefan Wallin is addressing his party’s election night party. He notes that SFP, together with True Finns, is the only party to not have lost any seats in parliament. This is a good result for SFP. Turnout is higher than normal in the country as a whole, normally bad news for SFP. Swedish-speakers tend to be more active voters, but this advantage has been rubbed out in this poll – but SFP have still manage to hold all their seats.
22.44 Voting is finished in Vasa electoral district. SFP retains 4 seats. Centre big losers in this area. Lars-Erik Gästgivars is SFP’s new member of parliament in Vasa (Håkan Nordman is retiring from parliament).
22.40 The True Finns chairman Timo Soini has arrived to massive cheering at his party’s election party. He says they’ve made political history.
Timo Soini responds to a question on whether he will be in government by answering that he will be taking a sauna with Jyrki Katainen. He hopes to sit in government. Yle points out that this election has been bad for gender equality. The True Finns are a very male-dominated party and are taking around 40 seats.
22.13 Maria Wetterstand, joint leader of Sweden’s Green party, is being interviewed on Yle. She is married to Finnish Green MP Ville Niinistö. She says that she thinks Finland has handled the True Finns very badly. According to Wetterstand, the other parties should acted cowardly. Only the Greens and SFp have spoken clearly against True Finns, the others have adopted much of their immigrant-critical populist rhetoric.
22.08 Swedish People’s Party will almost certainly win four seats in the Vasa electoral district. Ulla-Maj Wideroos of SFP says that it can be so that the True Finns and SFP are the only victors in this election. She notes that the True Finns are very long from SFP’s values and that Timo Soini’s values don’t belong in her idea of what Finland is. If True Finns enter government, will this mean SFP will leave government after decades?
22.07 81% of the votes are now counted. Kokoomus in lead with 20%, True Finns 19,4%, SDP 19%, Centre 15,9%, Left Alliance 8,2%, Greens 7,2%, SFP 4,3%, Christian Democrats 4,1%, Pirate Party 0,5%, Others 1,5%
22.03 A quick flick of the channels from Finnish television to Swedish Television (SVT) for the start of the main evening news bulletin in our western neighbour. The populist True Finns success is the main story. Nearly 20% of the votes to True Finns. This is not a good day for Finland’s international reputation. The Swedish media is finding it hard to understand how the True Finns can do so well in a country with so few immigrants.
21.58 First time turnout has been above 70% since 1995. The True Finns have at least increased interest in the democratic process.
21.48 If the True Finns are this election’s big winners, the Centre party and the Greens must be the big losers. Where have Green voters turned to? Whilst it’s feasible that many Centre voters have turned to the True Finns, it seems unlikely that liberal Green party voters would choose Timo Soini’s party. Indeed, the Greens were the only party to say they would not govern together with the True Finns. Could they voters have turned to the SDP?
21.46 Åland is the first electoral district to complete its counting in full. Not surprising as it is the smallest and interest in voting in the election is low there. The sole member from Åland Elisabeth Nauclér has been reelected.
21.33 Yle’s analyst notes that should Kokoomus, True Finns and SDP (who are all predicted to gain almost the same number of seats in parliament) form a government they’d have a strong majority without needing any smaller parties. Questionable whether smaller parties such as the Greens and SFP would want to dirty their hands with governing alongside Timo Soini’s populists.
21.28 Finnish radio and tv Yle’s prognosis has just been released.
True Finns and Kokoomus tie for first place with 19,8 percent of the vote each! SDP in third with 18,5. Prime minister’s Centre party 16,4 percent and practically certain to be in opposition. Left Alliance 7,9, Greens 7,3, SFP 4,2, Christian Democrats 4,0. A MAJOR upset. In the past, Yle’s prediction have been very accurate. Let’s hope it is not this time. It looks like True Finns will be in government if this is true. A horrendous blow for Finland’s reputation.
21.19 Prime Minister Kiviniemi has just told television that Centre is likely to go into opposition. When asked if it would be her first choice to go into opposition so that the party could lick its wounds, she seemed to agree it would be the best course of action. Could we see a Kokoomus-SDP government?
21.07 Just now, it looks like the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) may win an extra seat – if this occurred SFP would be the only party other than the True Finns to go forward in this election.
21.06 Four large parties of almost the same size. A very unusual situation in politics when one thinks of other countries.
21.05 Caution on the results to date. Many, many advanced votes in the country’s biggest electoral district, Nyland/Uusimaa, are not even counted yet. Likely to be many votes for Kokoomus amongst these. They are strong in Nyland.
21.00 47% of votes counted. There’s only 0,4 % (!) between the four largest parties!
20.55 Situation just now (percent) Kokoomus (conservatives) 19,2, SDP 19,0, True Finns 18,7, Centre 18,5, Left Alliance 8,2, Greens 6,0, Christian Democrats 4,3, Swedish People’s Party 4,2
20.29 Europe and Migration Minister Astrid Thors is currently around 300 votes ahead of fellow SFP candidate Jörn Donner in Helsingfors/Helsinki electoral district. SFP in a terrible position in Vasa electoral district, as things are now, they’d lose 2 seats in Österbotten, but they may be many votes cast today yet to be counted.
20.17 True Finns leader Timo Soini is the current “vote king”, having the highest number of individual votes. The extreme right winger Jussi Hallo-aho is in 5th place, also a True Finn.
20.12 Centre party’s chair, prime minister Mari Kiviniemi has just told YLE’s Swedish-tv channel that if this is the final result, Centre will go into opposition! A slip of the tongue in a second language?
20.10 Finland’s likely next prime minister, Kokoomus leader Jyrki Katainen speaking to TV. You can see first results on the caption.
20.03 The Finnish people have voted, polling stations are closed. Advanced voting results come in. Looks like a disaster for the Centre party with 17,3%, down 5,8%. They usually do will in advanced voting. The True Finns have 18,6% of the vote in advanced voting, third place. As expected, Kokoomus are in the lead with 20.2%, but the SDP are close behind on 19,5%. SFP are behind slightly over 1 per cent on the last election, but Swedish-speakings generally vote on the election day, and those results will come in as they are counted. ALL parties, except the True Finns, are behind on the last election.
19.52 Whilst advanced voting results will come in at 20.00, after poll’s close, we will have to wait until around 21.00 for a firm idea of how the next parliament will look. At that time, the Finnish national broadcaster Yle will release its first election prognosis. This is usually a highly reliable guide to the final result.
19.45 Just fifteen minutes until polling stations close and those first results are announced. Voting is expected to have been high today. The weather was good and people are invigorated by what was an exciting campaign. Hopefully turn out will pass 70% this time. The last two elections have seen shamefully low turnouts: only 67,9% of the electorate voted in 2007. By way of comparison, almost 85% of Swedes voted in their latest parliamentary election in September.
19.01 The polls close in just under one hour. Counting of votes cast in advance has already started and the results of advanced voting will be released immediately after the polls close at 20.00. Some news reports earlier in the day suggested that it might not be possible to count them all in time as there are so many advanced votes to count. Over 30% of the electorate chose to vote in advance this year. Residents of rural municipalities are usually those that cast their vote in advance in greatest numbers, so expect the first results to put the Centre party in the lead. The Centre party, with its roots in the agrarian movement, has its strongholds in the more sparsely populated countryside. Swedish-speaking Finns often leave voting to the day itself, so expect a relatively poor showing for the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) amongst the first returns. The first results should show if the opinion polls are right on the True Finns – will they emerge with more than 15% of the vote?
18.50 Welcome to this live blog of Finland’s 2011 parliamentary election. I obviously can’t provide a comprehensive results service, but I’ll be providing some snippets of what’s happening as the results come in. Naturally, with a focus on Swedish-speaking Finland. All times are Finnish time, we’re three hours ahead of GMT – and one hour ahead of central Europe.
The Justice Ministry’s election results service can be found online here. It will be updated with the latest results as they come in from municipalities and electoral districts across the country.
Kokoomus’ party chairman and finance minister Jyrki Katainen, likely to be Finland’s next Prime Minister if the opinion polls are correct.
Saturday is the final day of campaigning for the political parties and candidates contesting this year’s parliamentary election. Voting will take place tomorrow between 9.00 – 20.00 at polling stations across the country. Although, over 30 percent of the electorate have already voted during the advanced voting period. On election day, voting must be done at the polling station nearest one’s home.
The rise of the True Finns
This campaign has been in many ways the most interesting and exciting for many years. Sadly, largely for unfortunate reasons. It has seen the emergence of the populist nationalist True Finns party of Timo Soini. The party is anti-immigrant and anti-Swedish language. It is against the European Union and the euro, a populist stance to take and an easy vote-winner at a time in which EU financial support is required by several member states in economic crisis. During the course of the last few months, opinion polls have showed that Soini’s gang could take as much as 18-20% of the vote, although they have fallen back slightly in recent days. The True Finns will likely come out of tomorrow’s poll nearly as large as the three big parties, Centre, the national coalition Kokoomus, and the Social Democrats. For a party that won only 4% in the last election in 2007, this must be considered a great success. Sadly, Soini’s True Finns will be the big winners tomorrow. But, I am sceptical as to whether all those voting for the True Finns are actually racists. I suspect many will cast their vote for the True Finns as a mark of mistrust against the established political movements, a protest vote. We have seen party election finance scandals in most of the traditional parties during the last four years. Many who have said they will vote True Finns when asked by opinion pollsters may actually change their mind when faced with the list of candidates at the polling booth. Timo Soini is almost the sole known voice of the party, and he can’t stand in every constituency. Whilst he may even top the poll in the Uusimaa (Nyland) electoral district, voters in other parts of the country will be face with a True Finns candidate list of unknowns. They may just decide to vote for someone they know from another party. Should the True Finns win big, will they enter government? I see it as unlikely. Their beliefs are simply too different from the other likely government parties. Sure, we’ve had coalitions between the conservatives of Kokoomus and Social Democrats before – but they both agreed on fundamental issues such as our European Union membership. The True Finns do not. And, Soini may have a battle on his hands to avoid his party splitting or falling apart during the next parliament. Already there are tensions between the two main blocs within the party; hard-right nationalist members of the racist Suomen Sisu organisation and those members of the former Rural Party. One must also remember that most of the True Finns candidates have little to no political experience. They may find parliament rather boring once they get there.
Turnout in this election is likely to be higher than in the last two due to the less predictable nature of the outcome. The Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has traditionally benefited from a lower turnout, as Swedish-speaking Finns vote in disproportionately higher numbers. This advantage may be rubbed out this time. Although, on the other hand, perhaps even more Swedish-speakers will vote – and vote for SFP rather than other parties – because of the threat of the anti-Swedish True Finns and because of the recently worsened language climate in general.
In the Nyland (Uusimaa) electoral district, SFP should be able to hold onto its three mandates. But, they may well change hands. They party will have difficulty increasing its presence in an electoral district that has seen ever increasing immigration from the Finnish Finland. Kokoomus’ charismatic foreign minister Alexander Stubb may also win a significant number of Swedish-speakers’ votes. He has been campaigning also in Swedish with full page advertisements in Hufvudstadsbladet. The SDP will be hoping that at least Maarit Feldt-Ranta wins reelection, she is likely to do so. This is the country’s largest electoral district, and Timo Soini is on the True Finns’ list. It will be interesting to see whether he manages to top the poll in the district. He faces a strong challenge from the likes of Jyrki Katainen (leader of Kokoomus) and Stubb. Indeed, it will also be interesting to see if the popular Stubb manages to gain more votes than his party chairman.
In Helsingfors (Helsinki), SFP will hold onto its existing seat. It’s unlikely to increase to two mandates. It is possible that Jörn Donner will win more votes than current Europe and Migration Minister Astrid Thors and thus push her out of the next parliament. Donner is likely to appeal also to Finnish-speaking voters in the capital. However, Thors – who has been widely attacked by anti-immigration populists in many parties – may also win support from Finnish-speaking liberals who are appalled at the current populist tone the immigration debate. The SDP’s Jacob Söderman is retiring from parliament and his Swedish-speaking voters will be up for grabs.
In Egentliga Finland (Varsinais-Suomi, Finland Proper), SFP leader Stefan Wallin will almost certainly hold onto his seat.
In Vasa electoral district, SFP will be looking to hold onto its four mandates. It almost certainly shall. However, the popular Vasa politician Håkan Nordman is retiring and he commanded many votes also from Finnish-speakers in his hometown. So, there are lots of votes ‘going spare’ to be won. The Christian Democrats’ Bjarne Kallis is also retiring, and it’s likely that many of his Swedish-speaking voters will abandon the Christian Democrats for another party. SFP may benefit from this. The Swedish-speaking arm of the Social Democrats (FSD) has also campaigned hard in this election. They will be hoping that their chairman, Steven Frostdahl, will win a seat. He may well do. The Social Democrat vote will be helped in the Vasa electoral district by the fact that party chair Jutta Urpilainen is on the candidate list in the region. The Centre party has in recent years tried to establish a Swedish-speaking district, however it has been largely discredited by the erratic actions of its chairman Peter Albäck. Centre is unlikely to pick up more than a handful of votes from Swedish-speaking residents of Österbotten.
SFP is also, for the first time, standing candidates in Lappland and Uleåborg (Oulu). The chairman of the Sami Assembly is standing on the SFP list in Lappland. It will be interesting to see how many votes he manages to gather. It is however extremely unlikely that SFP will win a seat in either district. The party is merely preparing to go national in advance of the new election law coming into force, which is likely to have a 3% minimum threshold for parliamentary representation. As the threshold will be based on the nationwide share of the vote, every vote will be important for smaller parties in the future.
Meanwhile on Åland, the election is likely to be met with weak interest and a low voter turnout. Åland has its own political parties and most decisions are taken locally in this autonomous province. People there will be more interested in elections for Åland’s own parliament later this year. The sitting candidate, Elisabeth Nauclér, who represents the non-socialist parties on Åland, should easily win reelection. She sits together with SFP members in parliament as part of the so-called Swedish Parliamentary Group.
Come back tomorrow from 20.00 Finnish time (17.00 GMT), when I hope to provide a live blog of the results.
A few diverse thoughts on the election campaign as it goes into its final week.
Astrid Thors has a sense of humour
Being the government minister responsible for immigration can’t be an easy job in a time when populists are on the rise. Migration Minister Astrid Thors of the Swedish People’s Party (SFP) has faced a tough time in the media and often hateful threats against her from hardline anti-immigration campaigners. Indeed, due to this she requires a body guard when out in public. But an article in yesterday’s Hufvudstadsbladet shows that Thors has not lost her sense of humour during this often tough four year parliamentary term. On Friday, as she campaigned for votes at SFP’s election hut next to Stockmann in central Helsingfors/Helsinki, she wore a flowery hat, mocking the Finnish language’s nickname of “flower-hatted aunt” referring to persons who are pro-immigration.
Whilst Hufvudstadsbladet‘s reporter was at the scene, one man did walk by Thors and shouted aggressively, “Kick out the niggers from Finland!” Straight after this, one of the few candidates with an immigrant background from the national Coalition party Kokoomus, Fatbardhe Hetemaj, approached Thors from Kokoomus’ neighbouring election hut to admire her hat. At the same time, Kokoomus parliament member for Helsinki Ben Zyskowicz stood with an election brochure and attempted to hand it to an older lady with her grandchildren, to which the elder lady replied in Swedish, “I am not voting for you and I vote in Nyland/Uusimaa electoral district anyway”. To which Zyskowicz replied that she should then vote for Alexander Stubb, Finland’s foreign minister who is standing as a Kokoomus candidate in Nyland. The elderly lady instead determinedly approached Astrid Thors.
Indeed, it can’t be easy to be an immigrant or Swedish-speaking candidate or supporter for Kokoomus. The party contains elements that are extremely hostile to both. The party’s youth wing has voted for scrapping the Swedish-language as a part of the compulsory school curriculum in Finnish schools. Whilst the youth wing’s chairman Wille Rydman, who is a candidate in the parliamentary election in Helsinki, has expressed anti-immigrant views that can be considered on a par with the populist True Finns. He has in the past even expressed support for the views of the hardline racist candidate of the True Finns Jussi Hallo-aho. Swedish-speakers and immigrants considering voting for Kokoomus candidates such as Stubb should be aware who else might benefit from their vote.
As for Astrid Thors, her strongest challenge in this election probably comes from Jörn Donner. The veteran politician, author, film director and journalist is also standing as an SFP candidate in the capital. SFP strategists hope that Donner could attract a large enough number of votes to ensure that party would win two mandates in Helsinki. This however seems unlikely, and if Donner were too win more votes than Thors, he could knock her out of parliament.
True Finns – Sann’finländarna’
Saturday was a flag day in honour of the Finnish language. The Finnish flag flew outside our house as it did from the flag poles of our neighbours, who are predominantly also Swedish-speaking Finns due to the area in which I live. We are one nation with two languages and it is right that we mark this fact. Yet, it made me think, I wonder how many True Finns supporters and candidates fly the Finnish flag on the 6 November each year, a flag day marking the Swedish language and culture in Finland. It made me wonder whether we should really be translating Perussuomalaiset to Sannfinländarna in Swedish. This will make little sense to the English-speaker, so allow me to explain. The Swedish-language, unlike English and for the most part Finnish, makes a distinction between finne and finländare. Both would be translated as ‘Finn’ in English, whereas in Swedish the former refers to a Finnish-speaking Finn and the latter to any Finn regardless of language group. Finlandssvensk refers to a Swedish-speaking Finn. The translation “Sannfinländarna” thus means “[the] True Finns” in the sense of all Finns regardless of language group. Yet, the party is clearly against anyone who is not a Finnish-speaking non-immigrant. It doesn’t like immigrants or Swedish-speakers. It might be more accurate to translate its name as Sannfinnarna in future. Let’s not pretend it is an inclusive party.
Voters disenfranchised in Berlin
One of the perhaps most troubling stories in the last couple of days was reported by Radio Vega’s Aktuellt news bulletin this morning. Yesterday was the last day for Finnish citizens living abroad to cast their vote at Finland’s diplomatic posts. However, this was made impossible for around 30 persons trying to vote at the Finnish embassy in Berlin. The embassy ran out of ballot papers thus effectively disenfranchising those effected unless they happen to be able to travel to Finland to vote here. Aktuellt‘s reporter in Berlin spoke with an official from the Berlin embassy who noted that they had noticed that they were low on ballot papers earlier in the week and had ordered 150 more from the consulates in Hamburg and Stuttgart. However, when the reporter asked why it wasn’t possible to order more from Finland when there are several flights a day between the Finnish and German capitals, the official was dumbstruck and could not supply an answer. Let’s hope that this serious break-down in the mechanics of democracy is an isolated incident.
Svenskfinland in English has been taking a little (okay, long) break of late. I have simply had too much to do with work and, if I am honest, I lost the urge to blog. But had I been blogging away as usual during the last six months or so, I fear that this blog would not have made happy reading.
The language climate in Finland is becoming ever less tolerant and the position of Swedish risks being so seriously maligned that a future in which it is possible to access public services in one’s mother tongue seems ever more bleak.
Amongst things that have happened in the last few months include the ongoing saga of the orientation of the city of Karleby (Kokkola) in Österbotten. Despite various bodies stating that for linguistic reasons it should be included in the Österbotten region with its state services located in Vasa, the Centre party (led by very vocal support from new Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi) continues to call for its incorporation into the district led by the unilingual Finnish-speaking city of Oulu/Uleåborg. The question seems to have become a matter of stubbornness amongst Centre party members who do not want to back-down even in the face of the Constitution which would seem to make any northern orientation illegal because of the linguistic consequences.
Maternity services at Ekenäs hospital in Western Nyland have closed down despite massive protests by local inhabitants and many, mainly Swedish-speaking, politicians. The municipality of Raseborg, where the hospital is located, has a majority of Swedish-speaking Finns and the hospital was the last in a Swedish-speaking majority area in southern Finland to offer maternity services. Residents of Raseborg will now be forced to travel to hospital in Lojo or Esbo to give birth, where Swedish-speaking service is often hard to obtain. Ludicrously, some Finnish-speaking members of the hospital board covering much of southern Finland suggested that Raseborg residents could travel to Borgå hospital if they wanted to be sure of Swedish service when they give birth – a journey of 153 km taking around 2 hours by car – hardly feasible for a mother entering labour!
The debate surrounding Swedish-language instruction in Finnish-speaking schools heated up during the last six months with debate on its future even making the main headlines in the Finnish-language media. The debate – even in the mainstream media outlets such as Yleisradio and Helsingin Sanomat - continues to use the pejorative term pakkoruotsi to describe the teaching of Swedish, meaning roughly ‘forced/compulsory Swedish’ – strangely one never hears of ‘forced mathematics’ or ‘forced biology’ classes. The debate gained prominence largely because the National Coalition Kokoomus party’s congress voted against the party leadership’s direction on a measure calling for the abandonment of Swedish as a compulsory school subject for Finnish-speakers. The Confederation of Finnish Industry (EK) also called for its abolishment. According to EK, schools ought to offer a broader range of languages instead of compulsory Swedish. This seems to suggest that the teaching of Swedish is an impediment to the learning of other languages, which is of course very strange logic indeed. Learning Swedish is naturally of no hindrance to also learning Russian, German, French, Chinese or any other language. Finland’s bilingualism ought to be a plus for Finnish industry’s competitiveness, especially when Finland is a Nordic country. EK’s reasoning was dealt a further blow when a survey showed that 80% of companies in the finance sector regarded the knowledge of Swedish as a decisive factor when choosing how to employ.
In a move that has the potential to cause the loss of life, reports of a 112 emergency call centre failing to be able to speak Swedish to a unilingual Swedish-speaking caller from Sibbo have again been in the media in recent weeks. Fortunately, the call was not concerning a life-threatening medical condition and the caller was eventually able to pass her phone to a neighbour who spoke good Finnish – but the example shows that authorities are not living up to their legal obligations in even the most serious areas of service-provision. What would have happened if it was a serious condition and an ambulance was not dispatched in time to save a life? Emergency messages to the public that are broadcast on television screens as text have also failed to appear in Swedish in two incidents recently, once concerning a severe fire in the largely Swedish-speaking town of Hangö.
In film-related news, Swedish subtitles have also been missing from many cinema film showings of late with cinema films blaming it on digitalisation. Apparently modern technology means that it’s not possible to do what was quite achievable before – namely to show subtitles in two languages at the same time. A debate has also blown up in the Swedish-speaking press surrounding the new Moomintroll film. The film will premier in Finnish and English with the Swedish-language version to follow only a few weeks later. Given that the Moomintrolls are probably the most famous Swedish-speaking Finns, concern has been raised that this is a sign of ever increasing Finnish-language cultural imperialism in Finland. An attempt to deny that the Swedish language is part of Finland’s culture – even with the now world-famous Moomintrolls, a Swedish-speaking creation.
It is not all bad news, the increasing indifference and lack of understanding for Swedish has raised concern even amongst prominent Finnish-speaking politicians. Elder statesmen Martti Ahtisaari (former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner) and Paavo Lipponen (former Prime Minister) have spoken in favour of Swedish. President Tarja Halonen has also expressed her concern for recent developments.
Pictured: Protesters against the closure of the maternity ward in Ekenäs on the steps of Parliament in Helsingfors/Helsinki.
Finally, a genuinely positive utterance from a member of the government regarding Swedish. Education minister Henna Virkkunen has suggested that the teaching of Swedish is started earlier in Finnish-speaking schools.
At the present time, most Finnish-speaking schools begin teaching Swedish in the seventh year of school, when pupils are already 13/14 years old. Virkkunen, in a newspaper interview with Keskisuomalainen, suggests that schools introduce the teaching of Swedish in the fifth year of school.
The Association of Teachers of Swedish has previously suggested that Finnish-speaking pupils start Swedish in year five and Virkkunen has now agreed that this is a sensible idea, accepting that languages are easiest learnt at younger ages. This is undoubtably true. The fifth year of school, whilst an improvement from today’s situation, is probably still later than ideal.
Swedish-speaking schools start teaching the Finnish language in the third year of school at the latest. Many start earlier than this.
Finland’s school curriculum mandates that all pupils must be taught “the other domestic language”, as the subject is officially known in schools, i.e. Swedish in Finnish-speaking schools, Finnish in Swedish-speaking schools.
Virkkunen is a member of the National Coalition (Kokoomus) party and her comments, coming in a Finnish-language newspaper and thus directed at a Finnish-speaking audience, should be welcomed warmly. Let’s hope she doesn’t restrict this matter to just words and enacts a curriculum reform at the earliest available opportunity.