Voting gets underway across Finland today to choose the country’s president. The head of state hasn’t always been decided by popular vote: this is only the fourth time it’s happened this way. At various points in Finland’s 100 year history, the president was elected by parliament; by a sort of electoral college; and a hybrid system where voters got to pick the president and the electoral college.
It sounds much more simple to have one person, one vote, right?
Polling stations are open from 09:00 – 20:00. Wondering where your nearest polling station is? You can search using this website. If you want to cast a ballot you’ll need to take your ID card or passport to the polling station, and here are instructions what to do once you get there. If a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, then he or she will become President of Finland. If no single candidate gets more than 50% of the vote there will be a 2nd round between the two most popular candidate on 11th February.
Election Day Weather Forecast
It’s likely to be a snowy election day, with the Finnish Meteorological Institute predicting 2cm to 5cm of snow today in the south of the country. Low pressure brings snowfall to Central Finland as well; and expect flurries in the east and cold winds, says meteorologist Cecilia Karlsson. You’ll find temperatures as low as -21°C in parts of Lapland, but that’s an exception: mostly temperatures range from +2°C in Åland to -5°C Oulu.
Flags Are Flying
Finns love to fly the flag, and election day is no exception! Election day is one of the country’s official flag days, so you’ll see them at government offices, public places and apartment buildings alike until polls close tonight at 20:00.
Advance Voting Record
Advance voting started on Wednesday 17th January and a record number of people had cast their ballots – more than 1.5 million – when it closed on 23rd January. Finns living abroad could cast their votes at embassies and consulates, while at home you could find polling stations in libraries and community centres.
First Results Announced
The advance votes are counted first, so the first round of results should come in shortly after polls close at 20:00 tonight. Traditionally, the candidates host parties for their supporters and campaign workers in Helsinki, which act as a barometer for the highs and lows of vote counting. Expect some of those parties to be very subdued this year!
Winners and Losers
The winner in this election is incumbent President Sauli Niinistö. Technically he’s running as an independent, but he’s been endorsed by his old party the National Coalition Party and by the Christian Democrats. He also has a decent level of support from across the political spectrum so the big question is whether he can get more than 50% of the popular vote in the first round, something that has so far never happened in Finnish presidential politics. Most commentators think Niinistö can cross that 50% threshold.
The big scramble will be for 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. Right now Green Alliance Candidate Pekka Haavisto is in second place but not by much. At the last presidential election in 2012, polls under represented the popularity of Paavo Väyrynen by more than 7% so he is again hoping for a boost today. But veteran campaigner Väyrynen is locked in a battle with Finns Party candidate Laura Huhtasaari. She has said how badly she wants to beat him.
And the losers? Well big traditional parties like the Centre Party and Social Democrats have done very poorly in polls, down between 2% and 4%. That’s an embarrassing position to be in, considering how much money, resources and volunteers their campaigns have at their disposal. They probably have to figure out if it’s their party message that hasn’t resonated, or the candidates they chose who didn’t appeal to voters.
We caught up with three of the candidates on the campaign trail a few months ago – read about life shaking hands with strangers at suburban shopping centres at our original story here.
Finnish domestic media – and foreign media too – have been painting this election as just a boring rubber stamp exercise to re-elect President Niinistö. But there have been some interesting moments along the way.
There was the time when Pekka Haavisto’s campaign reported hundreds of suspicious new Twitter followers to the security services. Or when Matti Vanhanen had to have heart surgery in the middle of the campaign.
Remember when Paavo Väyrynen made a dramatic last minute entry to the ballot after getting more then 20,000 voter signatures? Or when he said he would close Finland’s borders and not let any migrants in?
What about the allegations of academic plagiarism leveled at Finns Party candidate Laura Huhtasaari? She denies it of course, but the University of Jyväskylä is looking into it.
And then there was concern about whether thousands of conscripts serving in the Finnish military have adequate chances to cast their ballots; and the debate about why Finland won’t experiment with online voting, while our neighbours in Estonia have embraced it.
Where does all the money come from to finance these campaigns? From ordinary Finns, from big business, from trade unions and the super rich and famous. We charted the finances of each of the candidates, to take a look at where they’re spending the cold hard cash.
You might not be surprised to learn how little attention was paid to the north and Finland’s Arctic region during this campaign. Our columnist Pirita Näkkäläjärvi – Sami of the Year 2017 – took a look at the track records of the presidential hopefuls, and where they stand on Sami and indigenous rights issues.
Meanwhile another of our columnists Habiba Ali explores the importance of values, and why she was voting for moral leadership above everything else.
And in case you were wondering what happens to Finland’s former Presidents and Prime Ministers, here’s our story about them too.
NATO – Election’s Hot Topic
There’s no doubt that NATO – and whether Finland should be part of it or not – was one of the most hotly contested issues in the election debates and candidate interviews.
To sum it up: Swedish People’s Party candidate Nils Torvalds is the only one strongly advocating for Finland to join NATO. President Niinistö fudges his answers on the topic and it’s a gray area for him. And with the other candidates, you’d have to be a security policy expert to find any daylight between their public opinions on NATO.
Still, the latest opinion polls show that Finns are strongly against the idea of joining NATO.
Candidate Interviews In English
News Now Finland teamed up with MTV, the country’s largest commercial broadcaster, to conduct the only English language interviews with all eight candidates. We tackled topics like NATO, immigration, values, party politics, the economy and a lot more besides! If you want to watch those interviews again, here’s the links to the candidate conversations, in the order we did them.