16/03/2003 - D-7
Just one week before the general elections the gap between the two main Finnish political movements, the Centre Party and the Social Democrat Party, is tightening,.
According to a survey by Suomen Gallup for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the Centre Party (KESK) will win 24.1% of the vote whilst the Social Democrat Party will win (SPD) 23.9%. The two movements are followed by the Conservative Assembly (KOK) with 20.5%, the Left Alliance (VAS), 10.1%, the Green Alliance (VIHR), 7.9%, the Swedish People's Party (SFP), 4.9% and the Christian Union (SKL), 4.4%.
Another opinion poll undertaken by the Taloustutkimus institute for the radio station Yle grants the Centre Party with 24.4% of the vote, the Social Democrat Party with 23.8% and the Conservative Assembly with 17.5%. The Green Alliance would come fourth with 10.8%, followed by the Left Alliance with 10.3%, the Swedish People's Party with 4.2% and the Christian Union with 1.9%.
However, Paavo Lipponen continues head the race as the Finns' favourite candidate for the post of Prime Minister. The leader of the Social Democrat Party wins 41% of the votes in favour against 31% for Anneli Jäätteenmäki, President of the Centre Party and 13% for Ville Itälä, leader of the Conservative Assembly.
In terms of electoral programmes, during this campaign the Social Democrat Party has focussed on the increase of budgetary allocations for employment, leaving aside tax relief that until now comprised part of its programme. The Centre Party just like the Conservative Assembly would like to reform social policy, notably by reducing employers' contributions and taxes.
Most of the candidates are opposed to Finland joining NATO. According to a survey published in the Helsingin Sanomat, the Left Alliance candidates are the most hostile (96%) followed by the Social Democrat Party and the Centre Party (69% and 67% respectively). The political community agrees with the population since according to the most recent survey on the subject undertaken on 17th to 20th February by Suomen Gallup, only 15% of the Finns say they are in favour of their country joining the Atlantic Alliance (against 24% in January), 68% are against it and 16% say they have no opinion. However 67% of the Finns think that political leaders will decide to present their candidature within the next few years.
An early vote in Finland and abroad started on 5th March. This vote is organised in post offices, schools, and public libraries and will be possible until 11th March (8th March abroad). In the general elections on 21st March 1999, 40% of the Finns voted early. The international economy has weighed heavily on the electoral campaign during which the debate on Finland's possible accession to NATO occupied people's minds more than domestic affairs. In addition to this the weakening of growth and the sombre economic perspectives have forced the political movements to reduce their electoral promises to a minimum.
Since the two main parties are almost equal in the opinion polls all forecasts about the general elections results are very difficult. We shall have to wait until 16th March to find out whether the Finns choose to maintain their present government coalition led by a Social Democrat Prime Minister, or whether they will opt for Anneli Jäätteenmäki who would become the country's first woman Prime Minister.