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Monday's papers: Regional election wrap-ups, costs of Covid

Morning papers look at the results of Sunday's regional council elections and what they may or may not mean to national politics.

Candidates of the the National Coalition Party topped the polls with Social Democrats and Centre Party candidates coming in a joint second. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

On Sunday, residents of Finland voted in the first-ever regional elections, electing delegates to 21 new county councils which will decide on social, healthcare and rescue services in each wellbeing services county over the next four years.

Candidates of the the National Coalition Party topped the polls with Social Democrats and Centre Party candidates coming in a joint second.

Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) political correspondent Marko Junkkari writes that while watching the results come in Sunday night, he felt like he was in a time machine. The last time these three parties dominated the vote was in the 2007 parliamentary elections.

Junkkari points out that the biggest losers in the regional elections were the Finns Party and the Greens. But, in an aside, he also points out that it is a bit funny to talk about winner or losers, considering this was the first election of its kind and no one actually lost or won seats.

However, the Finns Party and the Greens performed poorly compared to both the previous municipal and parliamentary elections.

According to Junkkari, alongside the old traditional right-left division, a new dividing line has arisen strongly, what political scholars call the "GAL-TAN dimension" - Green, Alternative, Libertarian, versus Traditional, Authoritarian, Nationalist.

This not a question of attitudes towards income distribution, as seen on the right-left axis, but of social and cultural values.

In Finnish politics, the Greens and the Finns Party, who have represented the extremes of this scale, have excelled on the battlefield of identity politics, Junkkari notes.

Now both failed in the regional elections.

However, this writer is unwilling to predict far-reaching shifts on the political scene. Asking whether or not the regional elections say anything about the change in Finnish politics, his answer is, "no".

"The results of the regional elections really only tell about these regional elections, not necessarily any of its broader and more far-reaching implications," writes Helsingin Sanomat political correspondent Marko Junkkari.

Down to business

In a post-election commentary, Heikki Tuuri, editor-in-chief of the farmers' union paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (siirryt toiseen palveluun)notes that it is often heard in the provinces that everything in Finland is concentrated in Helsinki and the Helsinki metropolitan area. The provinces now have the opportunity to change that.

He writes that the election winners can have a well-deserved moment to enjoy their victory, but the real work begins immediately.

As Tuuri points out, there was a lot of talk during the election that voters did not know what they were voting on. On the basis of campaign advertising by some parties, it seems that the matter was not clear to all the parties either.

It is understandable that even in the context of regional elections, there is interest in the level of national support for the various parties. However, the regions cannot afford to deal with with party politics, because decisions must be taken in a cooperative manner, and quickly.

There is no ready-made model for this work, and there cannot be, because the welfare areas and municipalities, and the needs of their inhabitants are all different.

The provinces now have the chance to show that the things that suit the capital region are not necessarily a fit for other areas. There is no need for a large health centre in every municipality, and a village nurse can still be a good alternative, according to Maaseudun Tulevaisuus editor-in-chief Tuuri.

Low turnout

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun)describes the low voter turnout in these elections, 47.5 percent as "really bad", and poses the question that if this means that welfare state model as a whole is based on the political views of a minority.

The paper does note that the election campaign took place in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. Many voters found election themes and choices difficult, and regional responsibilities were also confusing in the campaigning.

In a separate article (siirryt toiseen palveluun), it notes that the lowest turnout was seen in Ilomantsi, Pukkila, and Vantaa where it was only 38 percent.

Commenting on turnout, political researcher Jenni Karimäki of the University of Helsinki pointed that these were a new type of elections, the pandemic had an impact, and January is a difficult time to hold a vote.

As for who is making decisions, Karimäki said, "We know that well-off, highly educated and healthy people vote more actively on average.

The voice of these people, who are already in a good position anyway, is loudest in the election result."

Political researcher Claus Stolpe of Åbo Akademi also pointed out that many feel that politics has become estranged alienated from the lives of an ordinary people and that voting is not of interest because 'politicians don’t care'.

Cabinet member and DIY guy

Left Alliance Minister of Education Li Andersson, who was on the list in Southwest Finland pulled the largest number of votes of any single candidate in Sunday's election – 7795.

In an interview with the Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Andersson attributed her success in part to "...speaking clearly about the issues that are important to me. I have talked a lot about elderly care and the need to invest in public basic services to speed up access to care."

As the final vote was being tallied late Sunday, Rovaniemi's Lapin Kansa (siirryt toiseen palveluun) noted that a large number of celebrities – some with little previous political experience – were being elected to regional councils.

Among those mentioned by the paper were a former footballer, a TV comedian and the host of a popular DIY home makeover show.

Covid costs

While elections results dominate Monday morning headlines, there is plenty of room for other issues.

Among those was a look by Iltalehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun)at how much money consumers in Finland spent on masks and home tests since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the paper, the S-Group retail chain alone reports that it has sold approximately 200 million masks since the beginning of March 2020, and more than 530,000 litres of disinfectant. Since late May 2021, it has sold over 1.7 million home tests.

Iltalehti also asked about sales statistics for Lidl and the K-Group. Lidl would not release sales data and K-Group did not provide an answer to Iltalehti by deadline.

The S-Group's market share of the grocery trade is 46 percent. On this basis, Iltalehti calculated an estimate of the total sales of the products in question by supermarket retail chains.

Based on this information, and the average prices of these products, the paper estimates that just over 128 million euros was spent on masks in Finland, and 14.3 million euros spent on home tests.