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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
The municipalities of Pernå, Strömfors (Ruotsinpyhtää) and Lijendal will merge with the town of Lovisa from 1 January 2010. The new enlarged Lovisa will have a population of ca 15 700 and a Swedish-speaking population of 44% (39% in the current Lovisa town). The merger means the loss of the last Swedish-speaking majority municipalities east of Helsinki (or east of Ingå to be more precise, which is now Finland’s most “eastern” Swedish-speaking majority municipality) and the last Swedish-speaking majority municipalities in Östra Nyland (Itä-Uusimaa); both Pernå and Lijendal have a majority of Swedish-speakers.
Voters in the new Lovisa voted already on Sunday for their new municipal council which will replace the four existing separate bodies. The new council will assemble for the first time in November. Svenska folkpartiet, the Swedish People’s Party (SFP), won the most votes and seats. SFP won 40,6% of the vote and will thus get 25 places. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) won 22,8% of the vote and 14 seats. The National Coalition Party Kokoomus/Samlingspartiet got a vote share of 14,1% equating to 8 places.
The populist right-wing True Finns, the Greens and the Centre Party will each have 3 seats in the new council receiving 5,8%, 5,3% and 5,1% of the vote respectively. The Left Alliance becomes a new face in the politics of the municipalities winning its first seat with 2,3% of votes. The ‘Non-Alligned in the New Lovisa’ and the Christian Democrats also both pick up one seat each with 2,1% and 1,6% respectively.
The municipal election in the new Lovisa marked the first electoral outing for the Finnish Pirate Party (see previous entry on the PP). They failed to find any sympathy amongst voters getting just 17 votes (0,2%) and no seats – the only party that stood not to win a place.
The main story of the night was the extremely slow processing and announcing of the results, despite a turnout of only 62,3%. The final preliminary result was not announced until gone half past eleven, over three and half hours after voting booths closed. Borgåbladet reports that several voices at the National Coalition party’s election night called the organisation of the vote count “a scandal” and that action must follow as a result of its poor handling. The Lovisa-based newspaper Östra Nyland reports that the vote reporting was so scandalously slow because the Central Elections Committee in Lovisa had only arranged for one computer and one person to manage the reporting of the votes.
Although SFP won the most votes and seats, it does not have an overall majority. Some voices in the local Social Democratic group have said that they would like to see all the other parties form a coalition to keep SFP out from power in the new Lovisa. However, the SDP is split on this matter and the Kokoomus’ local leader has already announced his preferred alliance would be with SFP and the Greens. It also seems highly unlikely that non-SFP parties, which cover a large spectrum of political views, could come to an agreement to keep SFP out. So, SFP is likely to have the strongest hand in the coming negotiations over how to structure the running of the new Lovisa.
The election results can be seen as a disappointment for the SDP and Kokoomus in comparison with their expectations. It has been a marginal success for the True Finns who received more votes than Centre. SFP’s share of the vote is roughly as expected, if not a very slight disappointment. SFP may have lost some votes in Liljendal and Pernå to parties that have not previously contested municipal elections in those municipalities. In other words, some voters had more choice than in the past.
Pictured: Town Hall on Lovisa’s main square, built in 1862.
Svenska Yle is reporting that the four government parties (Centre, National Coalition, SFP and the Greens) have agreed to propose introducing a law that would make it necessary for political parties to win at least 3% of the vote in a parliamentary election in order to gain representation. Originally, a 3,5% minimum was proposed. SFP had strongly opposed this.
This move is a backwards step for democracy. Had it existed at the time, it is unlikely that smaller, more recent arrivals to parliament, such as the Greens and the True Finns would have made it in to the parliament. Regardless what one thinks of the True Finns, this would have been anti-democratic. It is particularly surprising perhaps that the Greens, now in government, support this regulation.
What this 3% minimum will do is to make it much harder for small parties to get a foothold in parliament in the future. Thus the 3% barrier will consolidate the positions of the exisiting parliamentary parties. It will particularly favour the largest parties; Centre, National Coalition and SDP. They may see their support increase, as people considering voting for a party that is predicted in opinion polls to only just make it over 3% may see voting for that party as dangerous for their vote, if it is to count. Instead, they might just give their vote to a bigger party, sure of getting over 3% instead. If introduced, this 3% barrier will lead to more wasted votes. Hardly democratic.