All entries for Monday 19 March 2007
March 19, 2007
Writing about web page http://www.eduskunta.fi
Right, after some time of hibernation, a new entry, surprisingly on Finland. I think I need to rename my blog to something that describes my obvious bias a bit more.
Every four years, Finns with a sense of obligation and strong umberellas to challenge the March winds go to their local schools, post offices or what ever is converted into a polling station in their neighbourhoods to cast their votes, largely as in any democracy. On its centennary, the Finnish political system is revered by the voters and generally thought to be unbiased and reliable, as the recent OSCE summary states.
Although pretty on the outside, the Finnish system has a very peculiar shortcoming, comparable to the problems of the UK first-past-the-post system. Although based on the d’Hondt system, the Finnish electoral process tends to force parties to court individuals without much political credibility in order to attract votes from sports affacionados, beauty pagency enthusiasts and listeners of the schlager genre of music (not very young, usually).
In short, every party sets up a list of candidates in respective districts, without a specific order. The votes that individual candidates get determine their ‘ranking’ on the party list. The amount of votes the whole party (or electoral-region specific coalition of parties) gets is then transformed into a candidate-specific numbers with regard to the candidates’ placement on the party-specific list, which are then ranked regionally between all candidates. This means that parties want to get onboard people who voters will recognise from their telly boxes, were they actors, athletes or just lovable eccentrics.
The nuissance for the parties is that sometimes, these candidates tend to score more than the party had envisaged. Where as the nationally minded, a bit extremist, a bit anti-EU, a bit of everything anti-establishment Perussuomalaiset (Basic Finns, sic) had a former WWF boxer with “exit only” tattooed on his buttock and less orthodox comments about imigration on their list and eventually MP-elect four years ago, the more credible parties have seen for example a former Miss Finland rise into parliament, and eventually into governent as Minister of Culture. Minister of Education in the same government was a former olympic pole vaulter, the Minister of Finance failed to complete his BA.
I have always been puzzled what the actual function of the celebrity candidates is in the parliamentary election. Are they mere vote magnets or credible politicians? The captain for the Finnish Curling team that surprisingly won silver in the latest Olympics was courted, secured and elected into the Parliament by the Centre Party. It is a pity that an individual that has been active in politics, and committed time and resources, is surpassed by someone with no previous attachment to a party, and elected because of completely unrelated achievements. Social policy and tossing a stone skilfully on ice cannot be compared (I am avoiding to rank them in any order or admirability). Will this MP become immersed in the politic of the state and the policies of the party he chose to represent, or will it merely become a nice job indoors for the four years ahead?
You might think that candidates like this undermine the confidence and credibility of the Parliament in the eyes of the electorate, but surprisingly, this is not the case. The WWF boxer mentioned before, succeeded in four years to call the President a lesbian, possess illegally a hand gum, amphetamine, growth hormones, and eventually be admitted into a psychiatric ward because of delirium tremens, caused by alcohol. This party now almost doubled its result compared to the elections four years ago. The MP in question now enjoys a contested sickness related early retirement and a steady income from the Treasury.
When politics become so centered around the individual personas, it is hard to say what a credible politician should do with the gladiators and beauty queens that make it into parliament. Media tends to take a very biased stance to these MPs. Athletic champions are not criticised to be incompetent to run a country, where as a beauty queen is shredded in the teeth of the tabloids for every gaffe. If it is a gender bias or if athletes are seen as socially responsible individuals (hey, in a beauty contest you at least need to state saving the world is your primary concern) is obscure.
For example, a skiing hero from years ago who now gained seventh most votes in the whole election, is seen as a basic Finnish man, the stereotype is consolidated by pictures in today’s newspapers of him cutting wood in order to meditate on the result. The athlete in question is seen to embody Finnish rural values by the older proportion of the elctorate, for the young he is a camp icon with a fluffy beard and a skiing hat reading “Suomi”, Finland in Finnish.
Surely anyone who brings in so many votes to a party cannot be overlooked, but should such a person get to the ranks of government just because people know him? I think that in order not to undermine the expertise of a government, they should be undermined, but in order to respect a general vote, they cannot. A conundrum of what to do with these magnets has tended to result in two opposite directions recently, either to try to train them to become politicians, or then to hope that they do not run in the next election. Some of them make it to the government as seen, some of them take a less gracious route to early retirement.
This setting somehow reminds of the Cold War and the threat of mutual extinction. If party A has a magnet, say a skiier, parties B, C and D need to get their beauties, wrestlers and Olympic beasts to attract the votes. Maybe a political SALT should be put into force, and running in elections be limited to people who actually know what it is about, in a spirit of mutual disarmament. Instead, maybe an annual vote for the “Most Useless Celebrity” should be held. I think the aforementioned politicians would make it pretty well in both polls.