Migrant Candidates Advance in Helsinki Local Election

Candidates with migrant background get more importance than before in Helsinki municipal election. Some of the votes have not yet been counted, so this conclusion must be seen as a preliminary one. The situation was even more impressive after the early votes were counted and before the votes of the electoral day itself changed the situation for some of the candidates.

Overall, the relatively good results of the candidates with migrant background can be seen both in the general number of seats as well as in the facts that some of them have established themselves as key actors in their parties.

Among the Greens, Ozan Yanar becomes one of the top vote-getters. His rise in Finnish politics has been impressive in the last couple of years. Born in Turkey, he moved to Finland as a teenager. In the final results he will be among the most voted of all candidates, across parties, nationwide.

In Left Alliance, Suldaan Said Ahmed has appropriated some of the national symbols of Finland to respond to racist critiques. During the electoral campaign he received a a significant amount of threats and hate messages, which may have finally boosted his votes. I know various people whose decision to vote for Suldaan was triggered by a desire to support him against the haters.  With Somali background, he moved to Finland as a teenager. Also Zahra Abdullah was receiving many early votes in Left Alliance, though finally she did not get elected.

Social Democrats have candidates with migrant background, such as Nasima Razmyar and Abdirahim ”Husu” Hussein Mohamed, among the most voted ones. In the centre-right Kokoomus, the biggest party in Helsinki and in Finland, Mukhtar Abib did well in the early results, but finally did not get in.

It would be interesting to study if there is something about the vote for candidates with Somali background, like Abib and Abdullah, that contributes to a tendency to get better results in early votes (votes made before the electoral day) than in the votes of the electoral day itself. Also, it may be interesting to study why people with Somali background seem to be more active in Helsinki electoral politics than people with some other migrant background (such as the Russians).

In any case, in this brief review I have only mentioned some of the candidates with migrant backgrounds from various parties. When analysing the results more carefully, one should be careful to define what “migrant background” may mean. The whole concept may become somewhat more fuzzy. Foreign-sounding name may not indicate any clearly definable migrant background.

Overall, it seems that Helsinki municipal council is becoming more ethnically diverse than before. This should be no major surprise, if we look at the numbers of migrants. Early results from other parts of Finland, such as Turku, indicate that candidates with migrant backgrounds get more seats than before.

At the same time, the established party most critical of the migrants, the Finns Party, is suffering its most significant electoral downfall in recent history. It is still bigger than it was not so long time ago, and some of the downfall may be explained by its participation in the government that has made many welfare cuts. Yet, the relatively bad results in this election may have an impact on the moods around rightwing nationalist groups also elsewhere in Europe. What may have seemed like an almost inevitable rise and rise of xenophobic populism seems no longer so inevitable.

In the overall results, the center-right Kokoomus remains the biggest party with 20.7% of the nationwide votes. A good result, helped by a very popular candidate Jan Vapaavuori in Helsinki, even if the overall votes were fewer than in the previous election. The Center Party got a historically low percentage (17.5%), though with its  agrarian base it remains the party with most representatives across the country.

By far the biggest advance was made by the Greens. With 12.4% of the nationwide votes, they can now be considered, in relative terms, the biggest Green party in Europe. The Green vote remains concentrated in the biggest cities.

For Social Democrats, the results were mostly a disappointment with 19.4%, as the aim had very explicitly been in becoming the biggest party. They have not been able to benefit from their position as the main opposition party. The Greens, and to some extent the Left Alliance, have been able to create an aura of leading the opposition.

The Left Alliance, with the charismatic new chair of the party Li Andersson, advanced in the election, getting 8.8% of the national votes. In Helsinki, where they advanced to 11,2%, one striking feature is that their elected representatives are mostly below 40 years old.

In Helsinki, one era is at least temporarily over as the Communist Party was not able to reelect its long-time only member of the municipal council Yrjö Hakanen, whose dedicated work has been respected across (some) party lines. Instead, the Feminist Party and the Pirate Party entered the council with one representative each.


NOTE: Some parts have been edited on the morning following the electoral night (April 10, 2017).

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