While I'm commenting on headlines, consider the following:

Verkkouutiset (fi): "Nearly one in ten without a digital receiver"

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "One in ten without digital TV"

YLE (fi), the public broadcasting company: "Only few percent of TV households without a digital receiver"

In practice both are correct. The first two articles concentrate on cable households, for which analog broadcasts will end tomorrow. The YLE story, however, talks about all households - including satellite ones, for which the deadline was last year. Still, it's not difficult to see what caused the different emphasis here.

Headline of the day

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "The Kremlin wants to buy 3200 white mice". Don't we all?

The article says they refuse to say what use they have for the mice. A Russian newspaper speculated that the poor things will be fed to the Kremlin's crow-repelling hawks. But in that case, why do the mice have to be white? I didn't know hawks are so picky.


Digi-TV for thee, but not for me

I haven't bought a digital receiver yet and I'm feeling kind of proud for it. I fully expect my intellect to soar over the weekend. Oh, this blog will see such sophisticated, cultured posts!


Then there were nine

If you've been trying to figure out who is the biggest no-hoper in the Social Democratic Party chair election, vacillating between Kimmo Kiljunen MP and Jouko Skinnari MP, you can stop now. Ilkka Kantola, a first term MP who became a Social Democrat in 2006 and is best known for having to give up his bishopric due to an affair, entered the race:

Ilkka Kantola, an MP since last year's general election and a former bishop, announced Tuesday he would stand as a party leader candidate at the Finnish Social Democrats' summer party conference.

Apparently someone made the mistake of joking to Kantola, "Why aren't you running for chairman? Hey, you could probably beat Pia Viitanen!"

Although Kantola's entry in the race has now changed everything, late last week YLE released a poll (fi) of Social Democrats according to which Erkki Tuomioja and Tarja Filatov are now tied at 27 and 28 percent, respectively. In other words, Filatov is a very good bet to win this thing.


Oh no! Society is decaying!

Quoth Justice Minister Tuija Brax (Green League):

[Brax] was quoted as saying by Aamulehti on Saturday that the country's democracy faced a serious crisis that could lead to a marked increase in crime and violent behaviour.

The minister told the Tampere-based daily she had been concerned about declining election turnout figures for the past two decades. [...]

The minister feels the cohesion of Finnish society is decaying, spawning organised crime and violence.

Meanwhile the National Research Institute for Legal Policy reports:
Young men's delinquent behaviour has remained more or less unchanged over the past forty years.

[...] The institute compared criminal behaviour among young males in 1962 and 2006. Results found that today's youth has not become any more mixed up in delinquent activity than generations before, although many goods are far more accessible for theft today than 40 years ago.

So there's that.

I was particularly impressed by the connection Brax made between election turnout and crime. Considering that presidential elections have considerably higher turnout than parliamentary elections, it seems probable that bicycle thefts show a decline after presidential elections, because young would-be criminals feel like they have a say and stuff.

Happily, then, the solution to the Justice Minister's fears is obvious: To prevent societal breakdown, we must move to a fully presidential system of governance and arrange elections every two years or so. Then you could leave your bike outside without a lock, I'm certain of it.

PS: I've so far come up with two things I like about Jyrki Katainen. Will post when I can think of a third.


What I like about Matti Vanhanen

This is part two in an on-going series where I list three things I like about a prominent Finnish politician. After President Tarja Halonen, this time I'll consider Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen.

1.) I like it that Vanhanen refuses to show emotion in public. During the Susan versus Matti court case he was kind of forced to talk about his feelings; his solution was to note that he has feelings, even though he doesn't display them - all said in the usual matter-of-fact way of his. Some other politician would whine about his travails to every available friendly media outlet. Vanhanen remains coolly detached in public, which allows him to maintain his dignity even after all those embarrassing situations.

2.) I like it that Vanhanen acts as a counterbalance to the extreme Centrists, by which I mean the forces within the Centre Party who are chiefly concerned with regional politics. The Centre has traditionally fared poorly in my personal cares-about-people-like-me sweepstakes, seeing as I don't produce food and live in a growing southern city. In that regard, Vanhanen's leadership has been a step in the right direction.

3.) ...Huh. Er... He's not Anneli Jäättenmäki?

This is harder than I thought. I'll soldier on with Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen next.


What I like about Tarja Halonen

Blogs can focus too much on politicians' flaws. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but even this blog right here has sometimes gotten snarky. As a much needed corrective to excess negativity, I'll start a series of posts in which I tell you just what I like about notable Finnish politicians. I'll try to come up with three things about everyone. I'm going to start at the top and work my way downwards till I get bored of it. First up, then, is President Tarja Halonen.

1.) I like it that Halonen has by and large done what was expected of her. We won't be joining NATO under her watch; she has tried her best to retain all the powers invested in the President in the Constitution; she speaks up for the welfare state every chance she gets. Her voters have little reason to feel disappointed or betrayed. Surely that's a good thing.

2.) I like it that Halonen greatly annoys our true-believing, US-style conservatives (and just about no one else). To experience these folks' rhetoric first-hand, check out the reader comments in Helsingin Sanomat's website under any article about Halonen. I hope the rest of us can come together in agreement that annoying them says good things about a person.

3.) I like what electing Halonen says about the country. She has many qualities that would limit her popular appeal in more conservative countries. She's a woman. She was a trade union lawyer. She used to be the chairwoman of a sexual minority rights organization. She resigned from the church. Having her as a President is a testament to the relative broadmindedness of our electorate, thus she makes a good representative for the country.

See, wasn't even difficult. Next up is Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen - maybe tomorrow, unless some piece of news strikes my fancy.


Kanerva's ambitious EU foreign policy agenda

In a recent speech (fi), Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva (National Coalition Party) said there should be majority decision making in European Union foreign policy. I'm not sure the President and the Prime Minister will be pleased, but at least Kanerva added the caveat that important national questions - are there any other kind? - should still be decided unanimously. Now all we need is an unanimous agreement that unanimity is needed to decide what are important national questions, and consensus will rule the day.

In the same article, we learn that Kanerva wouldn't describe the relations between EU and Russia with the word "challenge", but rather "ambition". How does that work?

"Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva, how would you describe relations between EU and Russia?"

"Relations between EU and Russia are ambition."

"Good one, sir."


Filatov leads

MTV3 asked board members of the Social Democratic Party's district organizations who should become the next party leader. The results (fi) look promising for former Labor Minister Tarja Filatov:

  • Tarja Filatov 21%
  • Erkki Tuomioja 19%
  • Miapetra Kumpula-Natri 15%
  • Jutta Urpilainen 10%
  • Johannes Koskinen 7%

Tuomioja is the left-wing candidate here and Filatov is the broadly acceptable alternative in the middle. It must be a bit depressing for Tuomioja that he has gained no support since the previous survey, in which only him and outgoing party chair Eero Heinäluoma received significant support. It'll be difficult for him to win from this position, I should think.

That Kumpula-Natri leads Urpilainen might be considered something of a surprise. I would have guessed that it was the other way around.

While I'm on the subject, for those of you who can read Finnish, Tagen Turinat has some decent, insider-ish analysis from a Lipponenian trade unionist perspective.


An issue with significance for the society as a whole

Vanhanen versus Ruusunen got underway on Friday (alas):

Petteri Sotamaa, Mr Vanhanen's barrister, told the court that Ms Ruusunen's book catered to the inquisitiveness and voyeurism of a certain niche of readers, adding its publication had nothing to do with any issue with significance for society as a whole.

Yes, but what was wrong with it?

Ban the Islamic Party

The Islamic Party - which is still collecting signatures - wants to institute the death penalty for adultery and implement Sharia law. Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors (Swedish People's Party) opined a while back that if it can enter the party registry, the law governing these matters will have failed.

Now Justice Minister Tuija Brax (Green League) quoth (fi), "If some association's goal is to weaken women's place in the society, for example by advancing violence directed at women, we must interfere in the matter. The purpose of an association can't be unlawful; for example, it mustn't promote anyone's death or killing."

Does this mean that it's illegal for any party to support the death penalty? Or is it just illegal to support the death penalty for silly reasons? I oppose the death penalty, too, but surely supporting it is a legitimate opinion to have. As far as I know, the Islamic party isn't talking about vigilantism, but wants to change the law through democratic means.

The other thing to take into account is that the party has no change whatsoever to accomplish any of its terrible goals. We're not afraid of the Communist Workers' Party even though it supports (fi) a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. Ministers presumably don't want to ban it even though implementing its program would entail trampling some of our basic rights. Why should the Islamic Party receive different treatment?


Police brutality

It turns out that the drunken man who pushed down Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen was a police officer (who has since resigned). But of course he was.

YLE says (fi) that according to the police investigation, the man didn't know he pushed Pekkarinen, which suggests that his motivation had nothing to do with Kemijärvi - unless he blames the dwarven kind for stealing Finnish jobs or something.


51/51 change

Yes, we have a tie. MP Merikukka Forsius, previously of the Green League, switched over to the National Coalition Party. Now the Centre Party and the Coalition will have an equal number of MPs, 51. One more flip to the Coalition and things might get interesting.

Forsius, who is from Vihti, said that local Greens don't want to cooperate with her, and that the Coalition's current values fit her. I'm not sure the leap is good for her political future, though.


Kemijärvi interpellation

The opposition - all parties are involved - will submit its second interpellation this Friday. It's all about the closing of Stora Enso's Kemijärvi factory, which according to the opposition the government should have opposed through its role as a major Stora Enso stockholder. As a result, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's rhetoric is getting a bit heavy-handed:

The prime minister asked why the opposition did not issue similar demands to pension insurance companies and the unions that held sizeable stakes in them.

"The world would be an easy place to live if only the state bought slices in all key companies and cooperated with pension insurance companies with their even deeper pockets in order to "rescue" all the jobs in Finland through decisions taken at annual general meetings," Mr Vanhanen said, underlining that his remark was sarcastic.

Sarcasm? I don't see any sarcasm.

In related news, Ilta-Sanomat reports (fi) that a drunken man, angry about Kemijärvi, pushed down Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen in Kolari last Friday. The incident happened when Pekkarinen was leaving a restaurant opening around midnight.

Personally, I think the drunkard is lucky Pekkarinen didn't bite his ankle. (Because Pekkarinen is really short.)


Urpilainen's appeal

Happened today in the Social Democratic Party chair election campaign: Jutta Urpilainen announced (fi) her candidacy. Miapetra Kumpula-Natri will say whether she's running tomorrow. Maria Guzenina-Richardson is running for vice chair - and not supporting Erkki Tuomioja, who, she implied, was "another old face".

Antti Kalliomäki - quite possibly the grayest man on earth - wants (fi) a chair who brings "a new look and youthful energy" to the party. Paavo Lipponen, for his part, wants a chair with a minimum amount of old encumbrances. Now's an opportunity to clean the table and leave old juxtapositions behind. Something tells me he isn't supporting Tuomioja, either.

The feeling I get is that what the Social Democratic influentials are after is stylistic reform, as opposed to radical substantive change. This is an understandable reaction to the parliamentary election, I think. The party promised to deliver the things its supporters want out of it, but it lacked credibility. With a fresh face as party chair, maybe it regain that credibility and leave behind the "old encumbrances" it accrued during the government years.

For Urpilainen, then, entering the race at this early date is imperative. She qualifies as a fresh face, and the contrast to Eero Heinäluoma's appearance, if not policies, would be considerable. But being quite new on the national scene and not looking like Heinäluoma aren't qualities unique to her, so she needs to move quickly to shore up support before others (read: Kumpula-Natri) challenge her for that niche.

PS: In case you're wondering, one of these days I plan to write about something else than the Soc Dems. No, really.


Strongest candidates for Soc Dem chair

Yesterday's shock announcement from Social Democratic Party chairman Eero Heinäluoma is obviously the big political news story of the day. According to YLE (fi), Tuomioja and Filatov are "the strongest candidates for party leader". YLE reached 52 of 61 party council members, of whom 33 revealed their current preferences. Erkki Tuomioja got 12 mentions, Tarja Filatov 10, Jutta Urpilainen 6, Maria Guzenina-Richardson 5, and Miapetra Kumpula-Natri 4. Tuula Haatainen, Mikko Mäenpää, Johannes Koskinen, Riitta Myller, and Lasse Lehtinen were also mentioned.

In other words, even the most popular candidate had the backing of less than 20 percent of party council members. Given the rudimentary nature of the field, there's very little we can say about the outcome at the moment, except that Tuomioja, the only one who has announced his candidacy, will in all likelihood still lack the party pooh-bahs' backing. As for the rest, I assume that the support for a fresh face - Urpilainen, Guzenina-Richardson, or Kumpula-Natri - isn't wedded to their current candidate and could be pooled behind the same person.

Incidentally, Lehtinen announced his support for Kumpula-Natri, who was Lehtinen's election chief in the last European Parliament election and pooh-poohed the possibility of taking a crack at it himself. He also described the contest as one between the Tuomioja line and the Paavo Lipponen line, and said that the future chair should be able to advance Finland's NATO membership. It's odd, then, that Kumpula-Natri opposed NATO membership (scroll down to section E) before the parliamentary election.


Heinäluoma exits the race

Er... about yesterday's headline... It was - how should I say this - very, very wrong. In fact, it was the opposite of right. In my defense, everyone else got it wrong, too.

Eero Heinäluoma announced today (fi) that he isn't running for Social Democratic Party chair. It's a bit of a bombshell and now lots of people (fi) who thought they didn't stand a change are scrambling to get in the race.

24d (fi) and Uutispäivä Demari (fi) have quotes from Heinäluoma's speech:

"We've suffered an undeniable election defeat and due to it, too, there is a need for reform. What is the chairman's responsibility and trust, what conclusions should be drawn?"

"After listening to the discussion for quite some time, I've reached the conclusion, that I should as the chairman take a clear responsibility for the election result. I've decided not to stand as a candidate in the election for party chair."

"I hope that a change of chair will give our supporters a strong message that we take the feedback we received in the election strongly."

"I hope that a change in party leadership will give our movement new strength, new energy, and also a new unity."

According to Helsingin Sanomat, he also quoted Martin Luther King(!): "If you can't be a sun, be a star."

I suspect that the constant negativity surrounding Heinäluoma after the parliamentary election got to him. He could have held on and had another crack at it. For some reason he didn't want to.

It'll be interesting to see whether former Heinäluoma supporters can line up behind a single replacement candidate. I doubt many of them will now become Tuomioja supporters, but obviously Tuomioja's chances are suddenly much better if there's no one dominant establishment candidate.


Heinäluoma enters the race amid infighting

Social Democratic Party chair Eero Heinäluoma will be up for reelection in this summer's party conference, reports (fi) party organ Uutispäivä Demari. The official announcement is due tomorrow. Few will be surprised, I should think.

Meanwhile the debate on holding a party member vote on the chair rumbles on. SONK, the Social Democratic students' organization, and the Social Democratic Youth are collecting signatures (fi) in support of a referendum. Uutispäivä Demari refused to publish the appeal and editor Juha Peltonen went on the attack, writing with dripping sarcasm (fi) that the Youth have no plans to organize a referendum and that some leading members have links to labor unions. In a somewhat peeved response (fi), SONK chair Mikko Koskinen called Peltonen a "limbo champion".

To show why the question of a referendum is so important, a Taloustutkimus poll commissioned by YLE shows (fi) that among the Social Democratic rank and file, challenger Erkki Tuomioja actually leads Heinäluoma 36 percent to 24 percent. Tuomioja's supporters tend to be women and young people (such as SONK members); Heinäluoma, with those famously extensive labor union ties, does well among workers.

Stubb's profile

British blogger Jon Worth likes National Coalition Party MEP Alex Stubb's website.


Counting votes

Hank W. is generally the best of the Finland for Thought crew when it comes to commenting on Finnish politics, but his post on election reform left something to be said.

There is a proposal into forming Finland into one or fewer electoral districts, mainly due to the fact that as the population has massed to the cities, the popular vote is valued differently in different district. So the vote of a person living in a small county weighs less than the vote of a person living in a populous city, thus conflicting the Constitutional principle of equality. Or say in the last elections Cronberg of the Greens didn't get into parliament from North Karelia (she is a minister though) even she had 8000 votes, while a True Finn Ruohonen-Lerner who got in from Porvoo with a mere thousand votes. Discrepancy? Maybe.

The number of MPs from an electoral district is proportional to the number of people living in the district, or at least about as close as it can be. This part of the system works pretty well. The real impetus for election reform is that some districts are now so small that their seats can't be divided between parties fairly. Parties need an unreasonably high percentage of the vote to elect even a single MP in low population districts, while in the big (and still growing) electoral districts a much smaller vote percentage is enough to win a seat.

As for Ruohonen-Lerner versus Cronberg, mentioning it doesn't make much sense in this context. The proposals mentioned in the media wouldn't do anything about the current open list system. Further, Cronberg was from a small district, received many votes, and wasn't elected; Ruohonen-Lerner was from a big district, received fewer votes, and was elected. This surely can't be used as an example of how votes cast in small districts count for more.

The real problem, and the one the reform is supposed to address, is the uneven way in which parties are treated in different sized districts. To use the previous case as an example, no Green League candidate was elected from Cronberg's district even though the party received 12 percent of the vote there, whereas True Finn party chair Timo Soini and Ruohonen-Lerner were both elected with six percent of the vote in their much more populous district.


Headline of the day

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "Soc Dems want being a human as a school subject". But what does it say if you fail?

What happened here is that the Social Democrats made the mistake of giving poet/MP Tommy Tabermann something to do, namely preparing a document on mental wellbeing for the summer's party conference, and this headline is their reward. Some other proposals (fi): give people the right to their own time, include an allowance for buying art in all construction, and add silent restrooms to places of employment with more than 30 people.

If I'm reading this correctly, the key to mental wellbeing is taking naps during working hours in a room that has paintings on the walls.


Halonen on government ownership

The President is not happy with government inaction on the Kemijärvi pulp mill issue:

Tarja Halonen, Finland's president, criticised the centre-right government's ownership policy at the opening of the 2008 session of Parliament on Tuesday.

"The government has stated that central government ownership in Stora Enso, for instance, is a financial investment which does not entail employment or regional development responsibilities beyond the scope of normal corporate social responsibility," the president said in her speech.

"And I believe that this is exactly what many people want to know: is this normal corporate social responsibility, then?"


"There are no easy answers now, nor will there be in similar situations in the future. Ultimately, however, it is up to Parliament to decide what the central government does and what its ownership policy is. Power comes with responsibility. I wish Parliament wisdom in taking decisions."

It's not often the President criticizes the government on domestic policy grounds, so this should get a lot of attention.

The speech in its entirety can be read here (only in Finnish). In addition to commenting on Stora Enso, Halonen defended the President's role in leading the country's foreign policy.


Election reform hits a snag

The Justice Ministry's election reform committee, which was intended to finish its work in late March, has reportedly hit a bit of a rough patch (fi). Anonymous sources have accused the big parties of obstructionism, so this week the Centre Party's secretary Jarmo Korhonen, a member of the committee, laid down (fi) his party's proposal. He that the big parties were prepared to change the system so that the whole of Finland constitutes a single electoral area and there's a four percent national electoral threshold. The Swedish People's Party, which benefits from its regionally concentrated support and is currently barely above the four percent threshold, obviously opposes (fi) such a move.

Of the micro-parties, the Senior Party and the Liberals issued a joint statement (fi) in which they approved of the plan for a single electoral area, but said that the threshold should be larger than four percent. Instead they would like to see a two-percent threshold - which, for what it's worth, is still so high that both of them put together would have a difficult time clearing it.

Looking at the last ten parliamentary elections, on average 6.9 parties have received more than four percent of the vote and 7.7 parties have gotten more than two percent. No parties have fallen between four and two percent in the last three elections, but in the six elections before that, one or two regularly did. Fear of fragmentation is hardly an issue unless we assume that these results would change drastically. Of the current established parties, the Christian Democrats and the Green League spent several elections below four percent back in the day, but had MPs anyway due to regional support and beneficial electoral alliances.

I kind of like the idea of a single national electoral area, but I agree that four percent is too high of a threshold. There's no particular reason why the limit shouldn't be two percent.


Heinäluoma leads, Feldt-Ranta out

It has been a busy few days for Social Democratic Party internal wrangling. MTV3 polled (fi) Social Democratic district board members on who should be elected the party chair next summer. Current chair Heinäluoma romped home in first place with 53 percent of the vote, followed by Erkki Tuomioja at 22 percent. Jutta Urpilainen was third with eight percent and Tarja Filatov fourth with seven percent. The Urpilainen supporters need to find a new candidate, though, as Urpilainen announced today that she will run for vice chair.

In other Social Democratic news, party secretary Maarit Feldt-Ranta won't be seeking another term. I've found Feldt-Ranta's media skills lacking. However, while she was far from the solution to the party's problems, she wasn't their source, either. The name mooted as her successor (fi) is Ari Korhonen, the chair of the party's Varsinais-Suomi district.

In the linked blog post, MTV3's Timo Haapala hinted that the party secretary didn't look as easy for Feldt-Ranta as the party chair race for Heinäluoma, so it's possible that she jumped before she was pushed. Lending further credence to that theory, in today's Turun Sanomat SDP parliamentary group chair Filatov says (fi) the party needs a new secretary who isn't an MP.

Poll: Coalition 22.9, Centre 22.5, Soc Dems 21.6

Taloustutkimus's latest party support poll, the first of 2008, is out (fi). It must be considered good news for the government parties, which have all increased their support by a few percentage points. The Social Democratic Party was the big loser, dropping 0.9 percentage points, but it's not all bad news for SDP. The polling was conducted between January 8th and January 31st and YLE reports that during that time the Social Democrats' support increased, whereas the Centre Party lost support. Is it the Kemijärvi effect?

CP   NCP  SDP  LA  GL   CD  SPP TF  gov  source
23.1 22.3 21.4 8.8 8.5 4.9 4.6 4.1 58.5 PE 3/18
23.0 24.1 20.7 8.2 9.4 4.5 4.4 4.5 60.9 TT 4/5
22.8 23.3 21.1 8.4 8.9 4.5 4.3 4.9 59.3 TG 5/20
23.4 23.3 20.8 9.0 9.6 5.0 4.1 4.4 60.4 RI 5/25
22.4 23.4 21.7 8.4 10.1 4.7 4.1 4.3 60.0 TT 6/9
23.0 23.2 21.5 8.3 9.0 4.3 4.2 5.0 59.4 TG 6/26
22.8 23.9 21.2 8.5 9.3 4.7 4.4 4.3 60.4 TT 7/2
22.3 23.6 21.2 8.5 9.4 4.6 4.5 4.7 59.8 TT 8/13
22.7 23.2 21.6 8.1 9.4 4.7 4.5 4.6 59.8 TT 9/9
22.5 22.6 21.5 8.4 9.0 4.6 4.6 5.0 58.7 TG 9/22
22.6 22.8 21.8 7.9 9.8 4.8 4.4 4.8 59.6 TT 10/13
22.6 21.7 21.7 8.6 9.1 4.6 4.7 5.1 58.1 TG 10/31
22.6 22.3 22.3 8.4 9.7 4.4 4.6 5.0 59.2 TT 11/19
22.3 21.5 22.3 8.6 9.4 4.6 4.6 4.9 57.8 TG 12/16
22.3 22.7 22.5 8.5 9.6 4.6 4.1 4.5 58.7 TT 12/21
22.5 22.9 21.6 8.4 9.8 4.7 4.3 4.7 59.5 TT 2/2

CP = Centre Party
NCP = National Coalition Party
SDP = Social Democratic Party
LA = Left Alliance
GL = Green League
CD = Christian Democrats
SPP = Swedish People's Party
TF = True Finns
gov = government parties
PE = parliamentary election
TT = Taloustutkimus / YLE
TG = TNS Gallup / Helsingin Sanomat
RI = Research International Finland / MTV3