The pro-Europe ruling Finnish party may have held power in this weekend’s municipal elections, but unusually low voter turnout suggests Finns are losing faith in all leadership options. Voter turnout was down to 58.2% of all eligible voters, the lowest level in a decade.
The low turnout suggests that Finns are growing wary over their political choices. On one side is the pro-Europe ruling National Coalition party led by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. Although a voice of restraint in Brussels when it comes to bailing out debt-ridden fellow eurozoners, Heinäluoma is still viewed skeptically by many Finns, who are worried about their own nation’s rising debt and long-term ability to provide for its citizens. Public debt as a percentage of economic output in the second quarter this year was up 5.6% from 2011 numbers, and now stands at nearly 52% of GDP.
On the other extreme is The Finns Party, formerly known as the True Finns. Led by Timo Soini, the party rose to prominence in the 2011 parliamentary elections—winning nearly a fifth of the votes and 39 of 200 parliamentary seats—on the back of extreme anti-immigrant and anti-euro sentiment.
In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal in 2011 Soini wrote:
Europe is suffering from the economic gangrene of insolvency—both public and private. Unless we amputate that which cannot be saved, we risk poisoning the whole body.
His views clearly struck a chord among Finnish voters during the 2011 parliamentary elections when 70.5% of citizens turned out, and awarded Soini’s party 19.1% of the votes. This latest election was a little different.
The ruling National Coalition party won the most seats and 21.9% of the votes, followed by coalition partners, the Social Democrats, with 19.6%. The Finns Party came in last with 12.3%. It was a big advance over the 5% of votes won in the last municipal elections in 2008 but still a comedown from the 2011 elections. The Centre Party, a traditionally agrarian party, won 18.7% of the votes.
Social Democratic MP and Speaker of Parliament, Eero Heinäluoma, called the fall in voter activity “catastrophic”. His party probably would have fared better if more voters had turned up, said an expert.