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Record number of immigrants seek local office

More candidates with non-native backgrounds than ever are running in this year’s municipal elections, some 400 in total. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) boasts the largest number of immigrant candidates – although various parties define that term differently.

Graph showing number of immigrant candidates by party
Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Even the Finns Party – which is frequently perceived as anti-immigrant – has 27 candidates with non-native backgrounds. Although the party has the lowest proportion of immigrant candidates, it is still its largest number ever.

The same goes for all parties except the Christian Democrats and Greens, who say that the number of candidates of non-Finnish descent has dropped slightly.

Boasting the largest number of immigrant candidates, 118, is the SDP. Second and third are the conservative National Coalition Party with 81 and the Left Alliance with 56.

The party with the largest proportion of non-native candidates is the small, middle-of-the-road Swedish People’s Party. The Greens have the second-largest proportion.

Just window-dressing?

A number of candidates with foreign backgrounds spoke at a panel discussion on Tuesday at Helsinki’s Caisa Cultural Centre. They included aspiring politicians with roots in China, Russia, Africa and the Middle East.

Many expressed frustration at being pigeonholed as only being focused on “immigrant issues”. Others suggested that some parties simply include non-native candidates on their lists as “window dressing” without concentrating seriously on supporting their campaigns.

Only Finnish citizens may run or vote in parliamentary and presidential elections. In elections for local government, though, anyone with permanent residence is eligible to cast a ballot or stand as a candidate. For those from outside the EU, this means a minimum of two years’ permanent residence in the municipality. For citizens of the EU or other Nordic countries, the minimum stay is just 51 days.

So far, though, new arrivals in Finland vote in much lower numbers than in other Nordic countries. At the last municipal elections in 2008, only 19.6 percent cast ballots, whereas in Sweden and Denmark immigrant turnout is around 40 percent.

Four years ago, 96,373 foreign citizens were eligible to vote. By now the figure has risen to 137,005, an increase of some 43 percent.

Advance voting begins two weeks from now on October 17.

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