If you’ve been waiting for someone at BCC to post an opinion of the current election, here it is.
I’m voting for candidate #856.
It’s the Helsinki municipal elections, and as a foreign resident who has been here for more than two years, I get to vote, so I’ve been getting my stuff together.
The city of Helsinki has 85 councilors, and every four years they are all up for re-election. The number of candidates running for those 85 seats is … wait for it … 994. Yes, there are 994 candidates running for office. I know this because, for the last two weeks, there have been placards all over the city where each party puts up a poster with their candidates for the voters to examine. And each candidate has a number.
Here’s the way this works: I vote for a specific candidate from a specific party. The parties are then assigned seats based on the proportion of votes received, and then the party assigns those to the candidates within the party with the most votes. There are about a dozen parties, from the True Finns on the right to the Communist Workers Party on the left. Five parties hold significant numbers of seats in the national parliament.
A few days ago members of the the Keskusta (Centre) Party were handing out free bowls of pea soup and cups of coffee near the metro station. There was a soap box and speaker on a megaphone. I asked a young candidate about the party’s platform, and he provided a reasoned and coherent explanation. I asked him how his party differed from the other parties, say the more liberal SDP and Greens. ‘Well, you’ll have to ask them,’ he said.
Finnish politics is, by American standards, dull. There is very little confrontation and a decided lack of convention-style grandstanding. Debates are muted and polite. Many Finns I’ve talked to find the shouting and flag waving of American politics perplexing and even disturbing. Generally, mainstream politics is more rational and less emotional. It makes terrible television.
Monday I met another candidate in front of the grocery store, handing out leaflets. She was from the center-right Kokoomus (Coalition), whose platform seems equivalent to a moderate Democrat in the US. I asked her about her political position, and then I asked why it mattered which party member I voted for. Wouldn’t they all follow the party line anyway? Yes, she said, but elected councilors would have a chance to set the priorities for the party in the city. For instance, the fact that the Helsinki city council had 45 women and 40 men meant that issues important to women — equal pay, child benefits, etc. — got more attention. She pointed out that her youth was an important factor in her electability because she could emphasize the issues facing those recently out of school. Fair enough.
I asked my wife how most Finnish Mormons voted. She gave me a funny look and said, ‘How would I know?’ So that’s that.
Election day is tomorrow. I’ve looked over the party statements, and I’ve chosen to vote Social Democrat. The big issue of the campaign is the privatization of the city’s excellent social services. The SDP seems to me to be in the best position to prevent privatization, or to make sure it happens responsibly if it becomes inevitable. I have a few other reasons, but that is the most coherent. So I checked out the list of the 120 SPD candidates and found one I liked on paper, and he lives in my neighborhood. I emailed him with a few questions and he invited me over for coffee. I was too busy, so he came out to the park where I took the kids this morning (with a bag of pastries in hand, bless him) and we had an excellent chat. He’s smart, reasonable, educated, funny, politically connected and a family man. So he’s my candidate. We’ll vote on the way home from church tomorrow.
So there’s my partisan rant. God bless us all in our democratic endeavors.