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Foreigners in demand as candidates for local elections

Recruitment was slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but efforts are ongoing.

Nainen kirjoittamassa ehdokkaansa numeroa äänestyslipukkeeseen.
Finland's next round of municipal elections are due to be held in Aril 2021. Image: Tero Kyllönen / Yle

Finland goes to the polls to elect local councillors in 2021, and several parties want to boost the numbers of foreign-background candidates in their ranks.

In the last elections in 2017 just 2.1 percent of the 33,618 candidates had a native language other than Finnish, Swedish or Sami. In the general population that percentage was 7.1, suggesting there may be a democratic deficit among those born abroad.

Some parties are looking to change that in the elections due in April 2021, as they try to recruit candidates to fill their lists.

"We believe it is very good to have foreign experts and professionals working in the Finnish labour market, and it’s even more positive that they are interested in their home city or municipality, so we very happily welcome these candidates," says the National Coalition Party's (NCP) Campaign Director Antti Ahonen.

The NCP is aiming to run more than 6,000 candidates in the municipal elections, including many foreign nationals, as he claims the party is "strongly pro-international and pro-EU".

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Antti Ahonen, Campaign Director of the National Coalition Party
National Coalition Party's Campaign Director Antti Ahonen. Image: Hanna Laasanen
Of the other parties Yle News contacted, the Left Alliance, Green Party and the Swedish People's Party said they wanted to boost numbers of foreign-born candidates. The Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Centre Party did not respond to our request for comment in time for publication.

The more candidates, the better

There is a clear incentive for parties to sign up as many candidates as possible, as Finland's electoral system rewards those with the longest lists.

Voters pick a candidate from lists of candidates from each party, with those candidates then arranged in order of votes received. Places are then allocated to each list in proportion to the tally of votes cast for candidates on each list.

So the more candidates you have, the more votes you're likely to receive, and the more places on the council your party may get.

Green party secretary Veli Liikanen tells Yle News that the party wants to run a list of candidates as “diverse as possible” in the local elections.

"We are looking to recruit all kinds of people who share our goals and values, and who want to work for their local communities and municipalities," Liikanen says, adding that the party already has a "growing number" of potential candidates, whose mother tongue is not Finnish or Swedish, ready to stand for election next spring.

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Veli Liikanen Mikkelin kävelykadulla
Green Party secretary Veli Liikanen speaking to a voter in Mikkeli before the 2019 general election.
Liikanen recognises however that foreign candidates may have to overcome a number of “obstacles” if they are going to run a successful campaign.

"The first one is how well known or recognised they are in their local community," Liikanen explains. "Who are their potential voters, especially if they have only recently moved to the area?"

Finns Party: Finnish skills are essential

The Finns Party stressed a neutral attitude to foreign-background candidates. Vice-chair Riikka Purra said language skills were important in municipal politics, while the party believes that getting Finnish citizenship is 'too easy'.

"When it comes to municipal politics it is difficult to see that anyone who doesn’t have the ability to use Finnish or Swedish could participate in any relevant way," Purra says. "If a foreigner wants to participate in Finnish society, the first thing to do is obviously to learn the language – as is the case for anyone moving anywhere abroad."

Green Liikanen, on the other hand, says that language is one issue among many for possible activists, and there is assistance available.

"For all people, even Finnish nationals, there are many things they need to learn when they run for office, and language is just one issue among many others," Liikanen says. "The party’s local officials are there to help, to support and to answer questions for all candidates."

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Perussuomalaisten Jussi Halla-aho ja Riikka Purra A-studiossa.
Finns Party vice chair Riikka Purra alongside party chair Jussi Halla-aho on Yle's A-studio current affairs programme.
Purra says the Finns Party is especially looking for "an honest person who shares the values and the goals of the party", and would consider candidate applications from across the societal and political spectrum -- including from those with a minority background.

"The Finns Party has supporters -- and members -- in many immigrant groups, especially among Estonians," she says.

The Left Alliance party secretary Mikko Koikkalainen says his outfit wants to attract more candidates in part through more and better information in foreign languages ahead of the election.

There is a lack of understanding among many people of foreign background, according to Koikkalainen.

"I think they can be reluctant [to stand for election]," Koikkalainen says. "Many don’t even know that they could be candidates or that they have the right to vote. The parties, the state and the municipalities should provide better information about these basic rights directly to them."

Party Secretary Fredrik Guseff of the Swedish People's Party of Finland tells Yle News that the party has already recruited five foreign nationals to stand in the 2021 municipal elections, and they are "absolutely" looking for more potential candidates.

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Fredrik Guseff.
Swedish People's Party of Finland's secretary Fredrik Guseff. Image: RKP / SFP
"It is important that we have people representing different backgrounds running in the elections," Guseff explains. "We hope that as many as possible would contact us directly and we will try to get in touch with potential candidates through different networks."

Guseff advises those interested in learning more about standing for the party to contact a member of staff, for example one of the "regional contacts" who can help on the local level, or else through the party’s website.

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