Finland election, 2015

(Revised and extended, 19 April, 9:30 a.m. PDT)

Finland has a parliamentary election on 19 April. The Center Party, which fared usually poorly in 2011, is leading all polls. But leading polls in Finland can mean under 25% of the vote.

An article in the Canberra Times captures a little of the flavor of Finland’s candida-centered open-list system and large number of parties:

The scene was a street market in an outer Helsinki suburb. Beside stalls selling long worms of coloured candy, and soft toys, and root vegetables, were the stands erected by four or five political parties. Outside each stood at least half a dozen candidates, including our interviewee, handing out their own personal campaign leaflets and engaging, when a voter showed the slightest interest, in vigorous political discussion.

Finland’s electoral system is, to an outsider, of mind-boggling complexity. The Helsinki district sends 22 members to the 200-member, single-chamber national parliament. Each party’s share of that total is proportional to the total votes cast for all its individual members.

The four major parties in Finland can each expect to send between four and six members to the national assembly from the Helsinki district. But which four or six? In Australia, party power brokers decide who tops the list of senatorial candidates, and who gets relegated to an unwinnable place on the list. In Finland, that’s decided by the number of votes each individual candidate garners.

The Finnish voter is faced with more than 50 candidates in any one district. There’s a list posted in every polling booth, where each candidate is assigned a number. You write one number, and only one, on the ballot paper. You are choosing, with that one vote, which party you prefer, and which candidate you want that party to send to the Parliament.

Even if the article does not say “open list”, it is a good (and too rare) example of a news piece at least acknowledging the different process of voting.

This election also marks the first under a somewhat revised electoral system, as Yle News notes:

A reform in electoral districts means that the 2015 elections are substantially different from those of years past – what was hitherto four constituencies have now been been merged into two separate constituencies. [Justice Ministry’s election chief Arto] Jääskeläinen estimates that counting in these new South-East Finland and Savo-Karelia constituencies will take a little more time than usual.

“Substantially different” is a bit of an overstatement, as there were fifteen districts, and only four of them are affected. The country’s mean magnitude thus increases from 13.3 to 15.4, which is hardly a major increase to what was already a quite highly proportional example of districted PR.

Of course, increasing the district magnitude for the voters in these former four is a substantial change for them. These were among the districts in which alliance lists were most common, as smaller parties would forge joint lists with larger ones to reduced wasted votes. (The parties in such alliances in low-magnnitude districts would run separately in the districts with higher magnitude.)

Yle News will carry live results after polls close at 8:00 p.m., Finnish time. They also have posted English-language interviews with the party leaders.

6 thoughts on “Finland election, 2015

  1. > “In Australia, party power brokers decide who tops the list of senatorial candidates, and who gets relegated to an unwinnable place on the list. In Finland, that’s decided by the number of votes each individual candidate garners.”

    Sadly ironic, this contrast: a party-list system that gives voters a freer choice, and MPs more democratic legitimacy from direct election, than a nominally STV system.

    Seeing how the major parties (with some help from the larger minors) have turned STV in mainland Australian States into an inordinately complex, rigidly controlled and only semi-proportional version of party lists, it’s not surprising that electoral experts like Colin Hughes and Antony Green have advocated open lists for upper house PR elections, while those less expert in electoral systems fall in love with MMP. The only people who seem to like this butchered hybrid are Irish career politicians and Blairite British party managers. STV’s light has been hidden under a very thick and murky bushel. Well, done, Australia.


    • I am surprised to learn that I am one or both of an Irish career politician or a Blairite British party manager.

      I am equally surprised but much happier to note that the NSW legislative council again demonstrated that individual preferences cast by electors can make a difference to the result.


      • Apologies, Alan, I was referring to those who advocate “number all 50-100 candidates on the ballot by ticking one box” closed-list STV. I can certainly see the attractions of “number the dozen candidates of each party you actually vote for by numbering several boxes yourself” NSW model, especially after the last two Legislative Council elections.

        Henry, for AG’s views on STV vs open-list PR see:

        “One of the weaknesses of all debates on PR in Australia is that most activists will not accept any form of PR except variants of STV.”

        “The debate on open list PR is a bit quiet in this country because all that ever gets put up as an alternative is Robson Rotation and Hare-Clark.”

        “Hare-Clark has no advantages if you are electing 21 members. You might as well use some form of open list proportional representation.”

        “Unfortunately, groups like the Proportional Representation Society, and various academics, are committed to advocating Hare-Clark with Robson Rotation, optional preferential voting and re-counts to fill casual vacancies. I don’t think there is any chance of this system being introduced, which without advocacy of some other system, means there is a high probability that the major parties will just get together and tweak the system. Hare-Clark style systems are so rare in the world of elections, and where they are used confined to electorates with relatively small voting populations, I just don’t see it as a solution to Senate voting which is largely party based. There are plenty of perfectly functioning democracies with party based voting systems, but there is nil interest in such systems by electoral experts in this country because of the entrenched attitude that Hare-Clark is best.”

        Despite being a registered lobbyist for (open-ticket) STV, I could become accustomed to (open-ticket) List-PR if it meant an Obeid or two getting lopped off by the voters instead of waiting for the Independent Commission Against Corruption to act.


  2. Isn’t Finland also unusual among Nordic countries not have any adjustment seats to ensure national proportionality, and the threshold is only the district magnitude of the multi-member seats? What is the reason for no adjustment seats?

    Doesn’t an open party list system like that of Finland cause members of the same party to compete for one another? Does it fragment the party system or is each parliamentary party fairly discipline because of parliamentarianism and early elections?


    • Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Estonia all have two-tier compensatory systems of some form. So Finland is indeed unusual among its “peer group”. A two-tier system was under consideration in Finland in 2015, but was rejected. Instead they simply increased the average magnitude a little bit by combining two pairs of smaller districts, a change that takes place with this election (and is mentioned in an update I added to the main post).

      Yes, of course, open lists by definition mean candidates of the same list compete against one another. I have seen data on party cohesion in European legislatures and Finland is a little lower than most, but not so much as to make one stand up and say that open lists undermine the parties.

      By the way, the proposed two-tier system would have eliminated the joint lists (apparentement), which are such a typical feature of the Finnish electoral system as we have known it.


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