Wherever you live in Finland, you’ve probably used several of the many services provided by local government authorities: public transportation, daycare services, libraries, sporting facilities, schools or even health care services.
And, you’ve probably paid taxes on your income to the municipality in which you live. Decisions about the taxes you pay and the services you get in exchange are made by local councilors elected to govern the municipality—and on 9 April residents of Finland will go to the polls.
Last time out, in 2012, most foreigners didn't bother. Turnout among non-Finnish citizens was just 19.6 percent, compared to overall turnout of 58.2 percent.
Campaigners suspect that many foreigners don't even know they can vote, and don't take part in the democratic process. Here are the main points to remember:
• All Finnish citizens who have reached the age of 18 and have not been disqualified from voting may cast a ballot in the election. Foreigners living in Finland were first granted the right to vote in municipal elections in 1992.
• Citizens of EU states as well as Iceland and Norway who are 18 or older on election day can vote in a particular municipality, as long as they have lived there for 51 days before the election.
• Non-EU nationals over the age of 18 who are resident in Finland may also vote in local government elections. However, they must also have lived in Finland continuously for two years before they can go to the polls.
Persons who are eligible to vote should receive a polling card in the mail by March 16, providing instructions on how to vote. The Justice Ministry’s special elections website, vaalit.fi, provides information on the process in English (siirryt toiseen palveluun). The site also provides details in 15 other non-native languages here (siirryt toiseen palveluun).
Foreign residents can also be candidates in the election but, again, participation rates are low.
In 2012, 680 people with a native language other than Finnish, Swedish or Sami, representing just 1.8 per cent of the candidates ran in the election. That's an increase on the 2008 elections, however, when the proportion of foreign-language speakers was 1.4 per cent of all candidates.
The key to remember, if you fancy yourself as the new Kekkonen or Ahtisaari, is that if you are eligible to vote, you can more than likely be a candidate as well. But if you want to register you'd better hurry, as the deadline is 28 February!
Advance voting starts on March 29 to April 4 for those voting locally; and from March 29 to April 1 for persons voting overseas.