16/03/2003 - Results
6300 votes separated the Centre (KESK) from the Social Democrat Parties (SPD), hence the centre-right movement just pulled through in the general elections of 16th March and became the country's leading political movement. This was a snatched victory but a victory nevertheless, that will enable the president of the party, Anneli Jäätteenmäki, to become, in all probability, (the new Finnish Constitution grants the leader of the movement that won the greatest number of votes with the initiative of creating the future government) the first woman Prime Minister of a Scandinavian country. We should point out that Finland already has a woman President (Tarja Halonen, elected on 6th February 2000) and the outgoing Parliament was also led by a woman.
After eight years of opposition the Centre Party has come back to power winning 24.7% of the votes cast and 55 seats in the Eduskunta/Riksdag (the Finnish Parliament). But defeat was more than honourable for the Social Democrat Party that won 24.5% of the vote ie 1.6 points more than during the last general elections on 21st March 1999 and has won two additional seats. Paavo Lipponen can be proud of being the first head of government to have improved the performance of his political movement since 1983. The Conservative Assembly (KOK) is the first victim of the political bipolarity, winning just 18.5% of the vote ie a drop of 2.5 points in comparison with the general election of 1999, and losing six seats in Parliament. It might be the great loser in this election, since Finnish tradition decrees that two of the three major movements join forces at the expense of the third.
The two other partners in the outgoing government coalition have also suffered a drop in their electorate: the Left Alliance (VAS) won 9.9% of the vote and lost one seat, the Swedish People's Party (SFP) won 4.6% of the vote and lost three seats. The Greens (VIHR) however seem to have benefited from their decision to leave the government in May 2002 after the vote giving the go ahead for the construction of a new nuclear reactor, since they won 8% of the vote and won three seats. The Greens are the most feminised political movement in Finland; indeed their parliamentary group includes 11 woman for three men only. We should also note that the participation rate that has been dropping regularly over the last 20 years in Finland was higher than that recorded in the general elections of 21st March 1999: 69.6%, ie 4.4 points more. The participation rate was particularly high in the capital, Helsinki.
More than 2000 candidates from twenty political movements stood during the elections on 16th March of which four parties were standing for the first time. 25.5% of the Finns chose to vote early between 5th and 11th March ie slightly less than during the last general elections on 21st March 1999 (26.9%). We should note that these elections were supervised by foreign observers who came from developing countries on the invitation of the Foreign Affairs Minister.
Negotiations will start as early as Wednesday between the different groups with the aim of forming a government. "I am going to allow for all alternatives", declared Anneli Jäätteenmäki when the election results were announced, saying that she "had nothing against" an alliance with the Social Democrats. The outgoing coalition that assembles the Social Democrat Party, the Left Alliance, the Conservative Assembly and the Swedish People's Party have a majority in Parliament with 120 seats. However the continuation of this coalition is quite improbable, since the Centre Party's victory makes them an unavoidable movement in the future government. "The alliance between the social democrats and conservatives is out of the question since it does not reflect the people's will", stressed Anneli Jäätteenmäki.
As soon as the results were announced the possibility of a coalition between the Centre party and the Social Democrat Party was revealed. The two movements might easily come to an agreement and would not be at all obliged to find any other allies to govern, since together they have 108 of the 200 seats in the Eduskunta/Riksdag, ie an absolute majority. Although during the electoral campaign Paavo Lipponen repeated that he could not be counted on if his party lost, the outgoing Prime Minister might become slightly more co-operative over the next few days. Finally the president of the Centre Party might still call on the Conservative Assembly to form a centre right coalition if she fails to convince the Social Democrat leader, in the ilk of the government in Finland at the start of the 1990's.
In just a few months Anneli Jäätteenmäki has succeeded in winning over both her party and her country. In June 2002 she became the first woman to take the head of the Centre Party succeeding the former Prime Minister Esko Aho. Nine months later she is on the verge of becoming the first woman to lead the Finnish government. Anneli Jäätteenmäki who is 48 years old and a trained lawyer, became famous as Justice Minister, a post which she was appointed to in 1994 in the government led by Esko Aho (1994-1995).
Her unfortunate rival, Paavo Lipponen, probably failed due to his inability to lower the unemployment level that lies at 9.1% and comprises the main economic problem in Finland. "The first thing I shall do will be to create jobs, we spend 7 billion euros per year on unemployment and we shall be able and must use this money for something else. Otherwise we shall not be able to continue with our social protection." declared Anneli Jäätteenmäki before the general elections. In order to fight against unemployment the Centre Party promotes the "liberation of work", recommending the reduction in employers' contributions so that companies can take people on.
In Finland no-one is expecting radical changes in political life since the programmes of the various parties converge on several points. Only the form of the future government is still unknown even though all the political analysts are tending towards a coalition of the Centre and Social Democrat Parties. The first session of the new Finnish parliament will be held on 26th March.
General Election Results of 16th March 2003:
Participation : 69.6%
Source: Helsingin Sanomat