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Feminists and Pirates make breakthrough to Helsinki municipal council

Sunday’s local government saw the installation of completely new faces to the Helsinki city council, as electors elevated candidates from the Feminist and Pirate parties to office. The Centre's evergreen ex-MP and minister Paavo Väyrynen also returned to municipal politics running on a Christian Democratic ticket.

Katju Aro
Chair of the recently-launched Feminist Party Katju Aro won a council seat in her first electoral bid. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

Founded less than one year ago, the Feminist Party made an early breakthrough to grab a seat on the Helsinki local council after polling in Sunday's local government election. The party was only officially admitted to the parties’ register in December 2016, making it one of the undisputed rookies on Finland’s local government scene.

The party’s new councilor is also one of its chairpersons, Katju Aro, who gathered 1,542 votes. As a newly-elected official, Aro said that she’s aiming to introduce more pointed and focused non-discrimination policies.

"Helsinki did say in its strategy that it is equal for everyone, but in reality there are many groups of people who remain on the fringes of society," Aro said.

The newly-minted politician said that she plans to introduce an initiative to promote equality and to put the spotlight on different minorities, such as undocumented migrants.

"The way that Helsinki treats these people who are here, but who don’t have any official residence status, is very important to us, for example the status of undocumenteds and asylum seekers," she added.

Aro said that the Feminist Party wants to guarantee immediate care – largely healthcare – and a basic income for undocumented individuals as well.

"We want to ensure that healthcare is guaranteed for undocumented people as well. Currently Finnish refugee policy has resulted in people not being given a basic income. We want to ensure that Helsinki complies with its human rights obligations," the Feminist party chair noted.

Pirate Party finally makes progress

The whimsically-named Pirate Party captured the popular imagination when it gathered the 5,000 signatures needed to be entered in the political parties’ register back in 2008. Back then, it declared the objective of winning a seat in the 2011 parliamentary election. However that goal eluded the group, which also failed to secure a seat in all of its forays into subsequent parliamentary, EU and municipal elections.

However 2017, turned out to be the year that the party’s luck turned as voters elected two councilors nationwide, one of them in Helsinki, the other in Jyväskylä. Deputy chair and physicist Dr. Petrus Pennanen attracted 1,364 votes to claim a seat on the Helsinki council. Pennanen was understandably excited about his new remit.

Petrus Pennanen
Petrus Pennanen is one of two Pirate Party candidates elected for the first time in Sunday's local governmetn elections. Image: Yle

"Even in election debates I noticed that it was easy to draw other candidates to consider new ideas. The discussion was quite constructive and we will introduce changes together," the new councilor said.

Pennanen’s energy manifesto includes proposals such as providing district heating for Helsinki from nuclear power. He noted that he had gathered support for an initiative from more than 100 other candidates among eight different political parties. He’s also a supporter of high-rise urban development as a means of protecting areas such as Helsinki’s Central Park and the historical Malmi airfield.

Centre’s Väyrynen returns as Christian Democrat

Unlike his colleagues from the Feminist and Pirate parties, long-in-the-tooth politician Paavo Väyrynen is far from being a newcomer to politics. Väyrynen has been an MP for more than 25 years altogether and has also held several ministerial posts. He has also been an MEP and was the Centre’s presidential candidate three times and also served as chairman.

Väyrynen broke with the Centre Party in 2016 and established the Citizens’ Party. However in his latest foray into municipal politics, he ran on a Social Democratic ticket, rounding up just over 1,000 votes to win a seat on the Helsinki council.

Paavo Väyrynen
Long-serving politician Paavo Väyrynen appears to have successfully re-invented himself following his break with the Centre Party. Image: Jarno Kuusinen / AOP

Väyrynen brings his Centre Party vision of a widely-settled Finland to the position, saying that one of his goals is to limit expansion of the diverse capital city.

"My goal is for us to give up policies that have seen us embrace hundreds of thousands of people from the provinces and from abroad in the city. It is not rational from the perspective of Helsinki residents, nor is it rational for all of Finland," the political veteran said.

He wasted no time shooting down proposals for the development of Östersundom, which lies just east of Helsinki.

"A hundred-thousand people in a new city of Östersundom, where we would have to build an 800-million-euro metro line, that makes no sense," Väyrynen declared.

"We have just invested about two billion euros money in a Ring Rail and western metro expansion, we should now build new housing for them," he added.

Meanwhile the last standard-bearer of political Marxism in Finland, the Communist party of Finland, SKP, saw compliment of councillors drop nationwide from 9 after the 2012 municipal elections to just two after Sunday's vote. The decline in the party's popularity at the polls saw long-time Helsinki councillor Yrjö Hakanen lose his seat.

Voters put Whisky-turned-Liberal party on Espoo map

Another young party that scored big on Sunday was the Liberal party, formerly known as the Whisky Party. The party got off to a swimming start early in 2016 by offering a tipple of the drink to supporters as a marketing gimmick. However, it has since changed its name.

On Sunday, chair Juhani Kähärä was installed by voters to Helsinki's neighbouring Espoo municipal council. Four other candidates running as independents also made it to the council in the Pirkanmaa region. The party campaigned on a platform of breaking down red tape and introducing deep cuts on personal income and corporate taxes.

"This result is historic! Small parties typically have difficulty getting candidates through to municipal seats, but the Liberal Party has succeeded on its first attempt," Kähärä said in a statement.

Edit: Article updated on 11 April at 12:08 to remove the reference to the Pirate Party as having a pro-EU, pro-euro stance.

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