MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS - Results Coverage, 28.10.2012 - National Coalition Party largest in country; Finns Party makes big gains from 2008, but falls short of seismic 2011 general election result
Turnout a bitterly disappointing 58.2%, despite sharp political differences over municipal reform
Juha Sipilä (right)
Votes are now all counted in Finland's municipal elections, and are as follows
(figures in parentheses from the 2008 municipal elections):
National Coalition Party 21.9% (23.5%)
Social Democrats 19.6% (21.2%)
Centre Party 18.7% (20.1%)
Finns Party (formerly True Finns) 12.3% (5.4%)
Green League 8.5% (8.9%)
Left Alliance 8.0% (8.8%)
Swedish People’s Party 4.7% (4.7%)
Christian Democrats 3.7% (4.2%)
Others, Independents 2.5% (3.1%).
The overall turnout in the election was hugely disappointing, falling as low as 58.2%, which marks a decline of three percentage points from 2008, in spite of a very vigorous debate between government and opposition parties over municipal reform.
As can be seen from the raw numbers, the big winners on the night, propelling themselves into around 1,200 local council seats, were the opposition Finns Party, also the big winners from the 2011 parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, the figures indicate a return - after a seismic shake-up in 2011 - to politics-as-usual, with the "big three" of National Coalition Party, Social Democrats, and the Centre Party re-asserting their position after the Centrists received a royal bloody nose and just 15.8% support in April 2011.
At the same time, the Finns Party, which enjoyed 19% of the vote and collected 39 seats in Parliament eighteen months ago, apparently failed to build on this quantum leap forward, and were affected - as were many parties - by the voters' reluctance to get off the sofa and cast their ballots.
The National Coalition Party and the Social Democrats, the two major partners in the six-party coalition government formed after 2011, can probably both feel they have escaped with minor flesh wounds, despite what was at least alleged to be a considerable groundswell of opposition to the government's planned municipal reforms and the reshaping of basic health services.
It may possibly be that these issues were not adequately explained to voters, or alternatively it could be that the issue was more of a "government vs. opposition" parliamentary-political death-match that did not actually resonate quite as powerfully in the shires as we were led to believe.
At the same time, the SDP under Finance Minister and party chair Jutta Urpilainen cannot ignore the fact that with 19.6% backing they now recorded their worst-ever municipal election result, dipping below 20% for the first time in their history.
Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen's National Coalition Party also shipped 1.6%-points in support compared with four years ago.
Equally, none of the smaller government parties, with the possible exception of the Swedish People's Party [not really a "national" party in quite the same sense as the others], can look at the results as much of an endorsement of their work.
Everyone lost, and the Finns Party won - though not as resoundingly as many had been expecting.
The Centre Party's decline into opposition in 2011 possibly helped them steady the ship in their own sometimes acrimonious struggle with the Finns Party, to whom they lost heavily in the parliamentary vote.
Now they delivered rather more than the opinion polls had forecast, while the Finns Party - notwithstanding their handsome gains across the board - probably saw a few of their earlier Centre Party converts slipping back "home".
It is naturally difficult to draw comparisons - should one compare the figures with the situation four years ago, when voters were last asked to decide on local issues, or with the most recent elections held?
Among the party leaders, this argument was naturally used to the best possible effect in order to present the results in a positive light.
The Finns Party demonstrably did not get the jytky - a serious jolt to the status quo - that they had famously enjoyed in 2011, but it would be stupid to underestimate the impact of their arrival in numbers on countless municipal councils.
In a good many cases, not least in Helsinki, the election result could have far-reaching implications: until now the National Coalition Party and the Greens have been able in practice to rule the capital from an absolute majority position, but that majority is no more.
The two parties are still number one and number two, but they lost five seats between them, and now have 42 of the 85 places on the City Council.
The Greens had a moment of doubt and pain early on, when the Finnish Broadcasting Company predicted they would get only 7.4% of the national vote, and when news was also coming in that the turnout was down in the big cities - their normal stomping-ground.
As so often before, they nevertheless put in a very fast final lap and overhauled the Social Democrats in Helsinki, and eventually produced a decent enough result.
The same could probably be said for the Left Alliance, though they will be worried about losses in some of their former industrial strongholds - a measure of the depth of recent job cuts, perhaps.
The distribution of seats around the country is not completely in harmony with the population of individual municipalities, such that it is easier to get elected (in terms of votes cast out of the total) in smaller communities than in large ones.
For this reason, whilst they finished only third, the Centre Party once again took comfortably the largest number of council seats, in excess of 3,000.
The biggest individual vote-catchers nationwide were Jan Vapaavuori (National Coalition Party, Helsinki, 7,793 votes), Left Alliance chairman Paavo Arhinmäki (Helsinki, 6,482 votes), and the immigration-critical Jussi Halla-Aho (Finns Party, also Helsinki, 6,026 votes).
Green stalwart Osmo Soininvaara collected over 5,000 votes in the capital, while Finns Party leader Timo Soini was the top man in Espoo, sweeping up nearly 40% of the party's 14,000 votes in the city and helping to pull eight other Finns Party councillors in behind him.
His role cannot be overestimated: the next largest individual haul of votes for his party in Espoo was 687, and the ninth seat went to a candidate with just 201 votes.
One other prominent figure to join the Helsinki City Council is the country's former "First Man" - Pentti Arajärvi, the husband of former President Tarja Halonen.
He came home handily on the Social Democrat ticket, collecting more than 3,600 votes.
Arajärvi was actually placed second among the SDP councillors elected, beaten only by Speaker of Parliament and former party leader Eero Heinäluoma and coming ahead of a good many heavy-hitters.
Full details on the Ministry of Justice elections portal, linked below.
Votes are still being counted in the larger constituencies, and hence we will reserve judgement until they are all in, probably around midnight. The notes below have been updated in places since 21:30, but it is probably best now to wait until we can provide full results.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE released its prognosis for the final outcome at 21:30, with the numbers as follows (figures in parentheses are this time from the final result in 2008):
National Coalition Party 21.4% (23.5%)
Social Democrats 20.2% (21.2%)
Centre Party 19.0% (20.1%)
Finns Party (formerly True Finns) 12.8% (5.4%)
Left Alliance 8.2% (8.8%)
Green League 7.4% (8.9%)
Swedish People’s Party 4.7% (4.7%)
Christian Democrats 3.8% (4.2%)
Others, Independents 2.3% (3.1%)
We shall have to see how close this forecast comes to the reality at the end of the night, but it would suggest that despite being still the largest party in the country the National Coalition Party of Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen has suffered somewhat from government responsibility, and indeed only the Swedish People's Party of the six government coalition partners can look at the results without seeing red ink.
The Greens will be worried at shedding as much as 1.5%-points, but they have come back from the dead late in the game before, and remain hopeful that these figures are a worst-case scenario and the broadcaster has got it wrong.
Indeed, as the figures for the larger cities firmed up, the YLE prediction looked pretty solid with one significant exception: the Greens slipped past the Left Alliance to touch 8.4%, in spite of lower turnout in places where they have traditionally done well, such as Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa.
Vantaa was the community with the lowest turnout nationwide: barely over 50%.
The Social Democrats are hanging on to second place nationally, but it has to be noted that their performance - if it stays below 20% - will mark the party's worst showing in a municipal election for a very long time indeed, possibly since the SDP's formation.
On the opposition side, the Centre Party's new chairman Juha Sipilä can look at the numbers with a certain satisfaction, while the Finns Party will be wondering why they have failed to replicate the 19% they took in the general election eighteen months ago.
One reason may be that they won that election on a staunchly eurosceptic and anti-immigration platform, while municipal affairs have other issues to worry about - for instance the vexed question of the provision of basic health care and plans to reduce radically the number of municipalities as a means of achieving greater cost-efficiency. A great many of Finland's municipalities are in a parlous financial state.
Members of the opposition Centre Party have been quick to point out that the results are a blow to the government's ambitions towards municipal reform and municipal mergers, which are something of a hot-button issue, as local residents fear it will mean services move ever further away, for instance to larger regional centres.
As with all politicians, party leaders did their best to cherry-pick the results to suggest progress made, using variously the previous general election or the previous municipal election as their yardstick.
Here for reference are the figures for the various parties at the parliamentary election in April 2011:
National Coalition Party (Cons.) 20.4 %
Social Democrats 19.1%
Finns Party (True Finns) 19.0%
Centre Party 15.8%
Left Alliance 8.1%
Christian Democrats 4.0%
Swedish People's Party 4.3%
This shows the hiding received in 2011 by the traditional "big three party" the Centre Party, which saw its complement of MPs fall from 51 to 35, while the True Finns became the third-largest party in the country (and the biggest opposition grouping), with 39 MPs.
Against this background, questions will have to be asked of the Finns Party: they certainly expected better, even though the election issues were different this time around.
Breakdown of parties after advance votes (2008 advance results in parentheses):
National Coalition Party 21.4% (22.4%)
Social Democrats 20.8% (22.7%)
Centre Party 20.0% (22.2%)
Finns Party (formerly True Finns) 12.8% (5.2%)
Left Alliance 8.4% (9.7%)
Green League 6.3% (6.6%)
Swedish People’s Party 3.9% (3.6%)
Christian Democrats 3.8% (4.3%)
Others, Independents 2.3% (3.2%)
Current predictions are that the overall turnout in the election will fall as low as 58.2%, which would mark a decline of a three percentage points from 2008, in spite of a very vigorous debate between government and opposition parties over municipal reform.
The figures above would seem to indicate that the Centre Party has managed to get its vote out and that the Finns Party - which has demonstrably collected a great many more votes and council seats than four years ago - might nevertheless be rather disappointed with their initial showing, considering the sweeping gains made at the parliamentary elections of April 2011, when they secured 19% of the national vote.
As is noted below, however, these results only give a very provisional picture, owing to the nature of advance voting - more common in rural areas than in the cities - and the count, which naturally sees small rural constituencies filing first, before places like Tampere or Helsinki.
The National Coalition Party, the Social Democrats, and the Greens can all expect to see their numbers initially falling (the Greens, for instance, could well dip below 6% at some point), but then creeping up again as the count continues towards the larger conurbations, while the Centre Party will enjoy an early bonus and could take the outright lead, but will be very lucky indeed if their support begins with a two by the end of the night, even if it does look as if they will outrun the Finns Party to take third place in the country as a whole.
If we are to venture any suggestions at all of the outcome at this early stage, they would be that the Centre Party has to some extent succeeded in "taking back" the votes previously bled to the Finns Party, with whom they share opposition duties in Parliament.
The result looks like being a bitter-sweet one for Finns Party chairman Timo Soini. Undoubtedly the populist grouping has scored a big win relative to 2008, but some commentators and polls before the election had hinted that the party would kick on still further from its earth-shaking advances in 2011, when it secured 39 seats in Parliament. At present this does not seem to be the case.
We will be updating the pages exceptionally on Sunday and Monday, although the International Edition officially closed down on Friday 26th October.
Coverage will be limited to reports of the count and results of the municipal elections held on Sunday.
The first point of interest will come at or around 20:00, when the results of advance voting are announced.
Roughly 24% of the eligible voters chose to cast their ballots ahead of election day, and although things are skewed somewhat by the fact that early voting is traditionally more prevalent among rural voters than in the larger cities, it should give some kind of picture of where things will stand at the end of the night.
Before things get started, however, a couple of bits of news about "winners and losers" from a completely different sphere.
HJK Helsinki did what they had to do on Sunday and thumped JJK of Jyväskylä 6-3 in their final match, eventually winning the Veikkausliiga title for the fourth successive year, and by a margin of six points.
Their championship win was ultimately no surprise, as they would have had to lose by a very wide margin and see Inter Turku win against FC Honka in Espoo by a similar cricket score for the outcome to have changed.
As it happened, Honka won 3-0. TPS Turku took third spot, a further four points back.
HJK Helsinki have established themselves incontrovertibly as the best football club in Finland, but this is rather small beer: new coach Sixten Boström will be hoping to emulate his predecessor Antti Muurinen (who took the club to five titles in two separate turns at the helm) and to carry HJK into the lucrative group stages of the European Champions League. This feat has been achieved just the once before, by Muurinen in 1998-99.
By winning the league, HJK put themselves into the second qualifying round for the ECL of 2013-14, while the two Turku sides go into the draw for the first qualifying round of the 2013-14 Europa League.
FC Honka, as Finnish Cup winners, get a berth in the second round of that competition.
Further afield in India, Kimi Räikkönen (Lotus) was 7th in the Indian GP, won by Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) ahead of Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari.
Vettel extended his lead in the Formula One drivers' championship to 13 points, while Räikkönen is still doggedly hanging on in there in 3rd place, with three grands prix still to go.
Anything better than 3rd will take some monumentally strange results, even if Räikkönen manages to win all three events. This itself is highly implausible: his position is due in great measure to consistency, and he has yet to win a race this season, although most concur that his comeback to the sport has been a success.
Finally, Bayer Leverkusen, managed these days by former Liverpool and Finland stalwart Sami Hyypiä, pulled off a very big win indeed on Sunday, beating runaway league leaders Bayern Munich 2-1 away from home.
This was the first dropped points for Bayern after a thundering start to the Bundesliga season that saw eight straight wins, and it will have done Hyypiä's fortunes no harm at all.
He has come in for some criticism in the early stages of the season, although the club are not badly placed, in 5th behind Borussia Dortmund on goal difference.
More on this subject:
EDITORIAL 29.10.2012: Three satisfied party leaders, and one not so
Previously in HS International Edition:
MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 2008: National Coalition Party largest party, True Finns big winners, gains for Greens (26.10.2008)
ELECTION SPECIAL - MASSIVE GAINS FOR TRUE FINNS AND A BAD NIGHT FOR THE CENTRE PARTY, AS FINLAND EXPERIENCES SWEEPING PROTEST VOTE. NATIONAL COALITION WILL BE LARGEST PARTY (18.4.2011)
Ministry of Justice, Elections Portal