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One of the jobs of the new(ish) government is to preside over the reform of Finland’s municipal map. This is important: municipalities deliver around two thirds of the official services used by citizens, with the central authorities of the Finnish state responsible for the other third. Basic services such as social and health care, schooling, libraries, adult education, transport infrastructure and waste removal are amongst those provided at the municipal level. At the start of this year there were 336 municipalities in Finland. Of these, 30 were bilingual (12 with a Swedish-speaking majority, 18 with a Finnish-speaking majority), 3 municipalities in mainland Finland are unilingually Swedish (there are an additional 16 unilingually Swedish municipalities on the autonomous Åland islands). 287 municipalities are unilingually Finnish-speaking. Mainland Finland’s smallest municipality is Suomenniemi in South Karelia with a mere 804 residents, Helsinki is the largest with almost 590 000 inhabitants.
The reform’s aim is to make the provision of service more efficient. Many municipalities are struggling financially, especially under the burden of providing healthcare in society in which people live all the longer. The government has determined new larger municipalities should be formed based on natural “commuting” areas. It is likely that this will be required to be sufficiently larger in population than many existing municipalities and debate is raging across the land in various districts on which municipalities would make the best partners for merger. It is vital that the will of the inhabitants and language is also considered when this takes place. We have already seen ill-prepared reforms of the police and court districts in which ‘unnatural’ districts were created in disregard to existing regional ties, for instance the Swedish-majority province of Österbotten was divided artificially in the police district reform, with the effect of enforcing Finnish-majority districts on it. We have also seen the way the will of inhabitants (both Finnish and Swedish-speaking) of Sibbo/Sipoo were ignored when Helsinki decided it wished to annex the western part of the municipality. Sibbo is now suffering as with the loss of income and inhabitants Helsinki’s forced annexation caused, it is now unlikely that Sibbo will survive the new municipal reforms as an independent entity: indeed, it may even be split up, with bits of it being merged with three different municipalities – truly historical butchery.
It is time now for Swedish and bilingual municipalities to organise themselves so that where mergers are necessary, they consider the best solution for minting Swedish as a living language of administration in Finland, so that Swedish-speaking Finns can also access good quality services in their mother tongue in the future. There is a serious danger that traditional local rivalry between municipalities or head in the sand attitudes based on the misguided dream that this will all blow over will inhibit sensible solutions to be found, and municipalities will be forced into merging with less suitable partners by the central government.
Still, I can not help but think the whole basis of this reform is misguided and rushed. We should be thinking of a more sensible way of managing the services that are currently delivered by municipalities. In an age of expensive medical treatment, is it really sensible for the smallest level of government to have responsibility for the delivery of healthcare? Could we not look to other countries for a better model. For instance, Sweden still has two levels of local government: counties and municipalities. It is the larger counties that are responsible for the delivery of the larger scale services that can not efficiently be delivered at municipal level: for instance, healthcare and public transport. This would work well in Finland. Imagine a newly beefed up county council for the whole of Uusimaa/Nyland, it would easily be able to offer healthcare – and a more integrated public transport system. Municipalities could retain their local identities and still be responsible for a wide range of services such as schooling. There would be no need for most municipalities to have to consider abandoning years of history and local identity by entering into hastily arranged forced marriages.
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.