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Government looks to shake up electoral system

Finland could be set to change the electoral system, moving from a candidate-based election to a closed list system where parties have more power to decide who gets elected. The debate was prompted by a new tier of regional government to be introduced—and elected—as part of a reform of health and social care.

Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Elections to a new regional body set to be introduced as part of a health and social care reform could force a shake-up in Finland’s electoral system. The Justice Ministry has produced a background document on electoral systems that has been sent to parties for comments.

At present municipal and parliamentary elections are candidate-based, where people cast their votes for a candidate first and foremost. The candidates are ranked within their party list based on the number of votes they receive, and seats are distributed based on the total support received by the party or list.

The closed list system allows parties to determine the order of their candidates in advance, asking voters to select a party slate to vote for without having any input into which candidates within the list might make it through.

With new bodies set to be created and elected to implement the social and health care reform, the current government is taking the opportunity to look at all Finnish elections with fresh eyes.

Open discussion

"I hope that in the coming weeks we’ll have an open discussion and not just assume that candidate elections are best," said Municipalities and Reform Minister Anu Vehviläinen. "If we make such a radical change to our electoral system, it would be good to consider every election at the same time. To consider which if any of our current elections might suit a list-based system."

In the coming months the government is set to decide how the new bodies will be elected, including whether or not individuals should face limits on running for election to different bodies. At present people are able to sit as local councillors, MPs and MEPs all at the same time.

"There’s quite a big threshold in Finland for limiting a person’s rights to participate," says Vehviläinen. "At least up to now it’s been a sacred principle that people can run in every election and the voters will decide who is elected. We should consider whether we want to limit that right."

The new provincial elections will either be held in autumn 2017 or early 2018, in conjunction with the first round of that year’s presidential election.

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