Universal suffrage for national elections was introduced to Finland in 1906, and it was extended to local elections in 1917. With the exception of some minor reforms, the original proportional representation system remains unchanged. This system enjoys full public support, for although it favors larger parties slightly, proportional representation allows political participation of small, and even marginal, groups as well.
All Finns over the age of eighteen by the year of an election are eligible to vote. Voting is not compulsory, and, in the 1980s, participation averaged around 80 percent, slightly below the average rate of the Nordic countries.
In the 1980s, the country was divided for national elections into fifteen electoral constituencies, fourteen of which sent between seven and twenty-seven representatives to the Eduskunta, according to their population. The constituency for the Aland Islands sent one. Constituencies corresponded to provinces except that Hame Province and Turku ja Pori Province were each divided into two, and Helsinki formed one electoral district itself. The five southernmost constituencies supplied nearly half of the Eduskunta's delegates. In the early 1980s, one delegate represented about 24,000 Finns.
Candidates for the Eduskunta are almost invariably nominated by a political party, although a 1975 amendment to the election law allows the candidacy of a person sponsored by a minimum of 100 Finns united in an electoral association. Party lists for a constituency contain at least fourteen names--and more for those constituencies with high populations. Since 1978 a secret primary among party members has been required if a party has more candidates than places on its party list. Parties may form electoral alliances with other parties to present their candidates, and they often do so because of lack of resources. This practice partly explains the high number of small parties successfully active in Finnish politics.
Since the introduction of proportional representation in 1906, Finland has used the d'Hondt constituency list system with only slight modifications. Under this system, elections are based on proportionality rather than on plurality, and seats are allotted to parties commensurately with the number of votes polled. Votes go to individual candidates, however, and voters indicate their preferred politician by circling the number assigned to him or to her on their ballots.
The Finnish system is distributive in several ways. There is no electoral threshold, such as the Swedish requirement that a party receive at least 4 percent of the votes in order to sit in parliament. In Finland it was feared that a threshold requirement might deprive the Swedish-speaking minority of seats in the Eduskunta. The Finnish system also favors parties with a pronounced support in certain areas, rather than those with a thin nationwide presence. Parties are not obliged to contest Eduskunta elections in every constituency. The practice of voting for an individual candidate rather than for a party means that voters can register their dissatisfaction with a party's policy or leadership by voting for one of its junior candidates. This characteristic of the Finnish system means that no candidate, no matter how senior or renowned, is assured election.
Elections for the 200-seat Eduskunta are held every four years in March, except when the president has dissolved the body and has called for an early election. Municipal elections take place every four years in October.
The presidential election occurs every six years in the month of January. Beginning with the 1988 election, it is to be carried out on the basis of direct universal suffrage. If none of the candidates receives more than half of the votes, 301 electors, chosen in the same election, choose the next head of state. Although pledged in the campaign to particular presidential candidates, members of the electoral college have the right to vote in the body's secret ballots for any candidate who has won at least one elector. If no candidate secures a majority of the college in the first two ballots, one of the two candidates who has received the most support on the second ballot will be elected president in the third and final vote. By the late 1980s, there was serious discussion of doing away with the electoral college completely and making the president's election dependent on a direct vote with no majority required.
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