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Voter turnout under 50% would raise legitimacy issues, warns historian

More than half of eligible voters will likely cast a ballot before polling places close on Sunday, says Assistant Professor Markku Jokisipilä.

Assistant Professor Markku Jokisipilä is head of the University of Turku's Centre for Parliamentary Studies. Image: Yle

As candidates and party leaders stumped in a final day of campaigning on Saturday ahead of Finland's first-ever county council elections, a parliamentary expert warned of the risks of low voter turnout.

A lack of public enthusiasm for or understanding of the new type of election, coupled with the pandemic, could lead to a record-low turnout in Sunday's vote, according to Markku Jokisipilä, director of the Centre for Parliamentary Studies at the University of Turku.

"Fifty percent is a somewhat critical threshold. When there are more abstainers than voters, that raises the question of the international legitimacy of an elected body," Jokisipilä said on Saturday on the Yle TV1 current affairs programme Ykkösaamu.

Despite advance polls suggesting that less than half of eligible voters might take part in the election, Jokisipilä is relatively optimistic that turnout will pass 50 percent.

26.4% have already voted

He noted that more than a quarter of the electorate have already cast ballots during the advance voting period.

"It would now appear, on the basis of advance voting, that it is quite possible and even probable that the 50 percent threshold will be exceeded. If we have a turnout figure beginning with the numeral five, we can be satisfied," he said.

The week-long advance voting period closed on Tuesday, with 26.4 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.

According to Jokisipilä, turnout is affected by many factors, such as unfamiliarity with the new type of the elections, regional issues, and the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought record numbers of new infections in recent weeks.

Fear of losing service may spur voter turnout

Jokisipilä predicts that voting will be significantly livelier in some areas, particularly "in municipalities where residents see their own services as potentially threatened".

There are plenty of such municipalities in sparsely populated parts of Finland. Many eastern and northern municipalities have long struggled with slumping population levels and tax revenues as more people move toward larger growth centres, mostly in southern Finland.

The 21 new wellbeing services counties, led by county councils, will be responsible for apportioning services throughout each region.

Voting sites are open from 9 am to 8 pm on Sunday. Nearly all permanent residents of Finland – except people in Helsinki and Åland – are eligible to vote.

More details about who can vote, where and how are available on the Ministry of Justice's election website (siirryt toiseen palveluun).