Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Finnish Eduskunta (Parliament)
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

Finland held a parliamentary election on Sunday, April 17, 2011. An overview of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the unicameral Finnish legislature - the Eduskunta - is presented here.

May 22-25, 2014 European election results will be available here. In addition, Finland's Ministry of Justice's Election Unit will have detailed results in Finnish, Swedish and English of the 2014 European election in Finland.

National- and constituency-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following Eduskunta elections:

      April 17, 2011      
      March 18, 2007      
      March 16, 2003      
      March 21, 1999      
      March 19, 1995      

Nationwide totals are also available for the following Eduskunta elections:

      March 17, 1991      
      March 15-16, 1987      
      March 20-21, 1983      
      March 18-19, 1979      
      September 21-22, 1975      
      January 2-3, 1972      
      March 15-16, 1970      
      March 20-21, 1966      
      February 4-5, 1962      
      July 6-7, 1958      
      March 7-8, 1954      
      July 2-3, 1951      
      July 1-2, 1948      
      March 17-18, 1945      

The election statistics presented in this space come from reports and data files issued by Statistics Finland and the Ministry of Justice's Election Unit.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Republic of Finland, called the Eduskunta in Finnish and the Riksdag in Swedish, is composed of 200 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term of office.

Members of the Eduskunta are elected by proportional representation (PR) in fourteen multi-member constituencies and one single-member district - the Swedish-speaking Åland Islands. Political parties and voters' associations may present candidates or lists of candidates. Parties may form electoral alliances and voters' associations may form joint lists. The lists are open, and electors cast a ballot for a particular candidate in a list rather for than a party.

Multi-member constituency seats are apportioned according to the largest average method of proportional representation (PR), conceived by the Belgian mathematician Victor d'Hondt in 1899. Parties that form an electoral alliance are treated as a single group, as are voters' associations belonging to a joint list. There is no statutory threshold for participation in the allocation of multi-member constituency seats, although the application of the d'Hondt rule introduces a de facto threshold at the constituency level - which smaller parties may overcome by forming electoral alliances. The single-member seat in Åland is filled by the plurality or first-past-the-post method, under which the candidate obtaining the largest number of votes in the constituency is elected.

List seats in each constituency are allocated to candidates that obtain the largest number of votes within the list or group of lists, up to the total number of seats won by the list or group.

The Political Parties

Finland's present-day party system traces its origins to the Parliamentary reform of 1906, when the Diet of the four estates - nobles, clergy, burghers and peasants - was replaced with an unicameral legislature, the Eduskunta, composed of 200 members chosen by universal suffrage and proportional representation. Women were granted both the right to vote and the right to stand for election. Thus, when elections to the Eduskunta were held for the first time on March 15-16, 1907, Finnish women became the first in the world to attain full political rights (New Zealand women had won the right to vote in 1893, but would not gain the right to stand for Parliament until 1919). The results of the 1907 parliamentary election established a multi-party system in which the Social Democratic Party (SDP) emerged as the largest political party. The SDP consistently topped the poll in subsequent parliamentary elections, and by 1916 it commanded an absolute majority of seats in the Eduskunta - the first and only time a single party has held an overall legislative majority in Finland.

Since 1809, Finland had been a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, and the newly established Eduskunta had limited powers: it had no control over the country's government, and was repeatedly dissolved by the Russian Tsar. However, in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Finland declared its independence from Russia, and following a short but bloody civil war in 1918 between revolutionary Reds (who had gained control of the SDP) and right-wing Whites, the country became a republic the following year, after an attempt to establish a monarchy came to nothing. The Finnish constitution of 1919 established a semi-presidential form of government, with executive power shared by the president and the Council of State or cabinet. Government ministers were responsible to the Eduskunta, but prior to a 2000 constitutional reform that strengthened the role of Parliament and the cabinet, the prime minister was largely overshadowed by a strong president, initially elected by popularly chosen representatives independent of the Eduskunta, and subsequently by popular vote. Moreover, Finland's multi-party system makes the formation of governments a difficult process: on many occasions, parliamentary deadlock has forced the president to appoint interim, non-party cabinets.

After the civil war of 1918, the SDP reorganized itself as a moderate socialist party, and once again emerged as the largest single political force. However, between the two world wars, Finland was largely ruled by a succession of typically short-lived center-right coalition governments, which on average lasted a year in office. During this time period, the Social Democrats were in office only twice: in 1926-27 and again in 1937-39, when they formed the first of the so-called "Red-Earth" coalitions with the Agrarian Party (ML). On the far left, the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) commanded a sizable share of the vote until it was outlawed in 1930. However, the radical right-wing Patriotic People's Movement (IKL) - an outgrowth of the violently anti-Communist Lapua Movement - found only limited electoral support.

During World War II, Finland fought against the Soviet Union during the Winter War of November 1939 to March 1940 - which resulted in the loss of more than one-tenth of its territory to the U.S.S.R - and again during the 1941-44 Continuation War, when Finland, as the only unoccupied, democratic country fighting on the side of the Axis Powers, sought to recover its earlier losses - to no avail, as the country was eventually forced to negotiate an armistice with the Soviet Union.

Following the armistice, several extreme right-wing organizations - including the Patriotic People's Movement - were outlawed, while the Communist Party was legalized once more. In the March 1945 Eduskunta election, the Communist-dominated People's Democratic League of Finland (SKDL) polled strongly and emerged as the second largest group, finishing just one seat behind the Social Democrats. In the years following World War II, Finland developed a highly fragmented party system, with four major political forces - Social Democrats, Agrarians, SKDL and the conservative National Coalition Party (KOK) - as well as a number of smaller parties, most notably among them the Swedish People's Party (RKP) - which sought to represent Finland's gradually dwindling Swedish-speaking minority - and the liberal National Progressive Party (ED), subsequently known as the Finnish People's Party (SK) and later as the Liberal Party (LKP). As a result, between 1945 and 1958, most governments were short-lived "Red-Earth" Social Democratic-Agrarian coalitions, frequently joined by the Swedish People's Party, and occasionally by the Liberals. The People's Democratic League was also a government partner until 1948, when it appeared to be implicated in a planned coup and lost ground in the parliamentary election held that year.

Since the end of the war, Finland had been pursuing a policy of friendly relations with the U.S.S.R., which in practice led to a considerable amount of Soviet meddling in Finland's internal affairs. For example, in the 1958 parliamentary election, SKDL won the largest number of seats in the Eduskunta. However, when the group was not included as a partner in the SDP-led coalition cabinet, the Soviet Union made its displeasure known, eventually forcing the government to resign. From 1959 to 1966 the Agrarian Party - since 1962 the Center Party (KESK) - formed several governments, but the SDP did not take part in any of them. However, in the 1966 Eduskunta election the left-wing parties won an overall parliamentary majority, paving the way for an era of center-left governments: between 1966 and 1987, the SDP and KESK were part of nearly every coalition government, usually with SKDL, RKP and LKP.

In the 1983 legislative election, SKDL suffered a major setback, polling its worst result up to that point, while the Liberals were wiped out and lost their parliamentary representation. However, the environmentalist Greens entered the Eduskunta for the first time, and the Finnish Rural Party (SMP) - an Agrarian Party populist breakaway - had a strong showing and joined the government for the first time in a coalition with the SDP, KESK and RKP. Despite subsequent tensions between coalition partners, the four-party government headed by Social Democrat Kalevi Sorsa went on to set a record by serving out its entire four-year mandate - an achievement that has become the norm for Finnish governments since then, in remarkable contrast with the cabinet instability that had previously characterized Finnish parliamentary politics.

After years of internal tensions between a majority reformist wing and a minority Stalinist faction, the Communist Party finally split in 1986 when the Stalinists left the party and set up the Democratic Alternative (DEVA). SKDL suffered further losses in the 1987 parliamentary election, while DEVA fared poorly. Meanwhile, the National Coalition Party - which had not taken part in any coalition cabinet since 1966 - scored major gains, and KOK leader Harri Holkeri formed a coalition government with SDP (still the largest party in the Eduskunta), RKP and SMP.

The Holkeri cabinet - the first Conservative-led administration since the end of World War II - remained in office until the 1991 legislative election, in which the Center Party won the largest number of seats, and subsequently formed a center-right coalition cabinet with KOK, RKP and the Christian League of Finland (SKL; since 1999 the Christian Democrats), headed by KESK leader Esko Aho. The Aho administration, which presided over Finland's entry into the European Union after voters approved the measure in a 1994 advisory referendum, also had to confront the country's worst peacetime economic recession. Public discontent with the slow pace of economic recovery led to a resurgence of the Social Democrats in the 1995 Eduskunta election. The SDP had its best showing in fifty years, and party leader Paavo Lipponen formed a five-party coalition government with KOK, RKP, the post-Communist Left Alliance (VAS; the successor of SKDL) and the Green League (VIHR), which continued in power after the SDP came out slightly ahead of both KESK and KOK in the 1999 parliamentary election.

In the 2003 Eduskunta election, the Center Party outpolled the Social Democrats by a very narrow margin, and KESK leader Anneli Jäätteenmäki formed a "Red-Earth" coalition government with the SDP and RKP, becoming Finland's first female Prime Minister. However, after only two months in office, she was forced to resign when she was accused of having illegally obtained confidential documents of 2002 talks on Iraq between then-Prime Minister Lipponen and U.S. President George W. Bush, and then lying about how she obtained them - the so-called "Iraq-gate." The leaked documents, which Jäätteenmäki used during the 2003 election campaign, suggested Lipponen was closer to the U.S. position than he was admitting, and were thought to have given KESK the edge over the ruling SDP. Defense Minister Matti Vanhanen became the new prime minister and leader of the Center Party, maintaining the coalition with the Social Democrats and the Swedish People's Party with a largely unchanged cabinet; Anneli Jäätteenmäki was subsequently acquitted of all charges against her.

The Center Party emerged once more as the largest party in the 2007 legislative election, but the National Coalition Party scored significant gains and became the country's second largest party for the first time in twenty years, just one seat behind KESK; KOK had its second-best result since the end of World War II, and its best showing since 1987. Meanwhile, the SDP suffered a major setback and scored its second-worst election result since 1945, slipping to third place for the first time since 1962.

Although the Center-Social Democratic-Swedish People's Party coalition government of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen could have remained in office, it would have held a slim Eduskunta majority of just ten seats (down from thirty-two in 2003), making it the weakest majority coalition government in Finland since 1945. Instead, Vanhanen chose to form a four-party KESK-KOK-RKP-VIHR coalition government, which commanded a solid fifty-seat parliamentary majority, and the SDP went into opposition.

Matti Vanhanen stepped down as chairman of the Center Party and Prime Minister in June 2010; Mari Kiviniemi, who had served as Minister for Public Administration and Local Government in Vanhanen's outgoing cabinet, succeeded him as both Center Party leader and head of government, becoming Finland's second female Prime Minister.

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Copyright © 2007-2014 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: May 25, 2014.