Government agrees voting threshold for future Parliamentary elections
Exceptions for certain constituencies rejected
The threshold for parties to gain MPs in future Parliamentary elections in Finland will be set at 3%. This means that parties or political groupings will only be able to win representation in the unicameral chamber of 200 MPs if their nationwide share of the vote exceeds this figure.
The various groups in the four-party coalition government agreed to the matter under the direction of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) on Tuesday.
The decision when it came was made on the basis of three differing threshold proposals. In the other proposals there was an additional element such that a solid show of support in one constituency would allow for the passage of MPs, even if the national figure did not exceeed three per cent.
this was nevertheless removed altogether from Tuesday's agreement.
Such a waiver would have been of benefit particularly to the Swedish People's Party, whose electoral support is centred on three constituencies, owing to the distribution of Swedish-speakers in the country - mainly in coastal areas in the south and west.
The SPP contented itself with a solution in which the nationwide threshold was set 0.5%-points lower than had previously been recommended by a committee examining the matter. Party Chairman Stefan Wallin described the agreement as "a tolerable compromise in the circumstances".
It will not be possible to get around the threshold arrangement via political alliances (which are occasionally a part of the Finnish proportional representation system), as in the same reform package there will be a ban on parties pooling votes in general elections.
The core of the reform is a system for evening up places in Parliament on the national level, to iron out distortions in the distribution of seats based on the relative sizes of constituencies.
In any event, the changes will not come into effect before 2015, as it is a constitutional change that will first need to be approved by the current Parliament by a simple majority and then confirmed by a two-thirds majority by the next Parliament, to be elected in 2011.
One practical reason for the need to change things is the "hidden threshold" that already exists in some form.
Owing to the size differentials and number of seats allocated in different regional constituencies it requires for instance that a party needs only around 3% of the overall vote to get a member through in the Uusimaa district (which returns more than 30 MPs), but as much as 14% in Etelä-Savo (South Savo).
This phenomenon is advantageous to the big parties in small constituencies, and hence a vote given to a small party in a small constituency weighs less in practice than one given to the same party elsewhere.
The intention is to resolve the problem by allocating the number of seats for the various parties on their share of the overall vote in the country, after which individual seats would be distributed on the strength of showings in individual constituencies.
The end result will be losses for the major parties, who will in turn be able to fend off the arrival of possible new small parties by the nationwide threshold.
The official explanation is that it attempts to prevent "the fragmentation of the party field".