Ranbir Sodhi’s successful door to door campaign for Vantaa city council seat
By Teppo Moisio
One might imagine that the only foreign-born councillor on the new Vantaa City Council would be content with his achievement.
”Well, no, not really. The result was actually a disappointment. I expected to get some 600 to 700 votes”, said Indian-born Ranbir Sodhi (SDP) at a table in his restaurant called Stadin tähti (”the Star of the City”).
In fact his vote tally came out at 299, enough to squeak home as the 18th and last Social Democrat elected to the council.
It is fair to say that his great expectations were well founded.
While the majority of candidates launched their election campaigns early in the autumn, Sodhi started visiting his friends’ and their friends’ homes as early as in May.
It is unlikely that anyone else ran such a campaign.
”I knocked on at least 200 doors; it might have been as many as 300 homes I visited”, says Sodhi, adding:”I told all immigrants to go and cast their votes, giving them my leaflet."
Right after the local elections, Sodhi supposed that he had been elected on the strength of his immigrant friends’ votes, but now he is no longer quite so sure about the matter.
His support was spread evenly across Vantaa.
”It is impossible to say who eventually were those who voted for me”, Sodhi admits.
In Helsinki and Vantaa, the share of residents whose native language is something other than Finnish or Swedish is close to 10 %.
However, only one candidate of immigrant origin was elected to the new city council in each city.
One reason for the situation is the fact that the voting percentage of foreign residents in local elections is low.
”In the 2004 municipal elections, only 15.3% of foreign-born adults of voting age actually exercised their right to vote”, reports Niklas Wilhelmsson from the Ministry of Justice.
Traditionally, mere immigrants’ votes are not enough to get one elected to the council.
For example in Helsinki, Zahra Abdulla (Green League) was elected to the City Council with nearly 2,500 votes, a large number of which were given in areas where immigrants hardly show up as a blip on the local population register.
Abdulla’s support areas can be described instead as having a high level of education and a significant support for the Greens.
What kind of man actually is this new Vantaa councillor?
The 44-year-old restaurant owner has lived half of his life in Vantaa, and is today resident in Hiekkaharju.
Ranbir Sodhi is a Master of Science (Economics), but started his career as a dishwasher in a Finnish restaurant.
Now Sodhi owns two nightclubs in Helsinki.
”I used to be a member of the National Coalition Party, but I changed my party affiliation, as I am not wealthy enough to belong to that party”, he says and laughs.
On the Vantaa City Council, Ranbir Sodhi intends to pursue the immigrants’ right to education in their own native language.
”This is how we will have people with two languages: Finnish and the native language of their own. International business is growing, and we will be able to train good interpreters for such purposes.”
On the previous Vantaa City Council, there was also one councillor with an immigrant background, namely Essak Batulo (Greens).
While Batulo did not take the floor very often, Sodhi promises to be more pro-active and to address the Council more often.
To sum up, Sodhi wants to give five tips to potential foreign-born candidates who want to run for the local council:
1. Be active and run your campaign from door to door.
2. Launch your campaign early enough.
3. Select themes which get across to immigrants.
4. Urge immigrants to use their right to vote. If necessary, take them to the polling station.
5. Learn the Finnish language well. Then you will be able to get things done, and to get votes from native-born Finnish citizens as well.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 31.10.2008
More on this subject:
A white election
TEPPO MOISIO / Helsingin Sanomat