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Smaller towns could lack representation in new regional assemblies

Finland's regional elections will see representatives elected to new assemblies.

Hyvinvointialueet Suomen kartalla.
In January Finland goes to the polls to elect representatives on 21 new regional authorities responsible for health and social care. Image: Matti Kurkela / Yle

Finland's new regional authorities will be elected in January, and some smaller localities could end up without representation on the new bodies.

That's according to Yle's analysis of what might happen in elections for the 21 new assemblies based on the results of the last municipal elections.

The analysis suggests that voters could be forced to weigh up which is more important: a candidate's party affiliation or where they live?

Location could be important, given that the new bodies would be dividing resources previously allocated to individual municipalities, and some towns could be left without services that were previously provided locally.

It remains to be seen how that dynamic might play out, but Yle applied the results of the last municipal election to the 21 new regions to figure out who would win if voting patterns remained exactly the same.

Yle found that the National Coalition would top the poll nationwide, securing 281 representatives. They would be followed by the Centre Party, the SDP and the Finns Party, all with more than 200 representatives nationwide.

Next would come the Greens, the Left Alliance, the Swedish People's Party and then the Christian Democrats.

That pattern is unlikely to be replicated at January's election, however. A recent poll found that only 43 percent of respondents said they were sure to vote in the elections, but past experience from voting polls show that the turnout could be as low as 40 percent.

Election figure projection

Election researcher Sami Borg from Tampere University said that Yle's forecast is a decent rough guide to the election, even though it is not a forecast.

Lots could change before January, however.

"Candidate lists, campaigning and voter enthusiasm will be decisive," said Borg.

Marianne Pekola-Sjöblom from the Finnish Association of Municipalities said that Yle's forecast is good at mapping party allegiances, but any electoral pacts were not factored into the calculations.

"Will MPs and other vote-getters run for these new assemblies? This could also affect the parties' balance of power," said Pekola-Sjöblom.

For now at least large numbers of MPs are unsure if they'll be candidates in the election. That could have a detrimental impact on turnout.

"I don't know if I am too optimistic, but I hope that we get about the 40 percent number," said Borg.

Some municipalities could be left without reps

Some in smaller municipalities have been concerned that candidates from the bigger cities in their regions would hoover up votes and small towns would be left without any representation.

Borg and Pekola-Sjöblom say the fear is not without foundation.

According to Yle's projection based on municipal election results, most of those elected to the new assemblies came from bigger towns.

Pekola-Sjöblom says, however, that she's not sure regional centres will take up quite so many of the places on new assemblies.

"On the other hand the main city hosts more than half the population in nine of the new regions," said Pekola-Sjöblom. "Some 87 percent of the population of the new Vantaa-Kerava regional authority lives in Vantaa, for instance, and Kokkola has 70 percent of the people living in the Central Ostrobothnia region. Candidates from those towns will have an advantage.

Story continues after photo

Sami Borg Hämeensillalla
Sami Borg works at Tampere University. Image: Kirsi Matson-Mäkelä / Yle

The National Coalition Party think tank Toivo has published analysis that suggests eight of the new regions would see a simple majority of representatives from the biggest town in the region.

The report, which is based on the results of the 2017 local elections, suggests that some 60 small municipalities would be left without representatives on the new assemblies.

"It's quite probable that some small municipalities will be left without representatives," said Borg. "On the other hand, regional assemblies decide on the whole region's not just single municipalities' issues."

In practice politicians' place of residence does impact the decisions they make, according to Pekola-Sjöblom.

"Municipality of residence should not be significant, but in reality the number of representatives population centres get will have an influence," said the researcher.

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Marianne Pekola-Sjöblom.
Marianne Pekola-Sjöblom from the Finnish Association of Municipalities said that some towns could lack representation after regional elections in January. Image: Ronnie Holmberg / Yle

Voters' choice: Place or party?

Small municipalities' residents' voting behaviour could be analysed based on the results of the 2008 local elections.

They took place after several mergers of smaller municipalities to join Hämeenlinna, Kouvola and Salo.

"In those elections the numbers of those elected from the small municipalities that joined larger towns were consistent with their population or even greater," said Pekola-Sjöblom.

Voters in smaller towns could then be forced to consider whether it is more important to vote according to their party allegiance or their hometown.

The electoral system ensures parties are represented according to their support, but does not allocate spots according to geography.

For example, in the last local election fewer than a thousand people in Juupajoki voted. In the Tampere suburb of Hervanta alone the figure was ten times that.

If that pattern were repeated in January's regional elections, it would place Juupajoki candidates at a disadvantage in the Pirkanmaa regional elections.

Under Finland's d'Hondt proportional representation system, parties will have to carefully consider which candidates they put forward for election. Is it worth picking candidates from smaller towns? Or could they even be an advantage in the complicated electoral arithmetic.

In the end, though, the choice is with the voters.

"But that's the case in every election," said Borg.

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