Local issues beat out national concerns on the campaign trail

Finland's political parties were out in force this weekend with candidates trying to get their names, number and messages better known with potential voters.

Composite picture of (L-R) Kokoomus, Communists, Centre and Swedish People's Party tents at Tikkurila, 17th March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

With less than one month to go until the general election, candidates are making a big push to get their name and message out to the public.

Last Thursday, individual candidates received their voting numbers and so this was the first weekend to connect their faces to the numbers they hope voters will remember when they get to the polling booth on 14th April.

At Tikkurila market in Vantaa, local political party organisations put up their tents, parked their buses and trailers, and got their candidates out on the hustings.

Despite the intermittent sleet, and a slightly unfortunate spot away from the bustle of the main market stalls, the National Coalition Party; Liike Nyt; Finnish Communists; Blue Reform; Finland First; Social Democrats; Swedish People’s Party; Pirate Party; Kookomus, and the Finns Party all put in an appearance.

Liike Nyt candidate Hjallis Harkimo with supporters in Tikkurila, 17th March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Newer political entities get to tell their story

For some of the less well known parties, it’s a good chance to explain their messages to curious members of the public.

“People mostly ask why I went away from Kokoomus, and what our idea is. And that’s to widen democracy to get more people involved in the decision making. In Finland too few people make the decisions, that’s my experience” explains millionaire businessman, reality TV show star and politician Hjallis Harkimo (Liike), who says he hopes to get between five and ten members of parliament elected.

“I’ve been traveling a lot in Finland, I was [on Saturday] in Joensuu and Kuopio, and next I’m going to Turku and Rovaniemi and Jyvaskyla and people are tired about the whole system and the decision making” he tells News Now Finland.

Blue Reform parliamentary group chair Simon Elo (L) talks to voters at Tikkurila market, 17th March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

“From us, the Blue Reform Party, people usually ask ‘what differentiates you from the Finns Party and what’s the story of your party'” says Parliamentary Group leader Simon Elo, in between handing out hard candies and campaign leaflets to mostly older shoppers in the market.

“When it comes to politics, here many people are pensioners and so they interested in their pensions, and they are also interested in elderly care, how do we take care of the elderly people, and as you have seen from the media, there is a lot of problems in that field, so that is something people are genuinely interested in” he says.

“I would say they are not interested in health care reform, but they are interested in health care” Elo adds.

Elo, whose party split from the Finns Party in summer 2017, says people only seem to ask about national issues where it might impact them, and more often want to know specifically about Vantaa or Espoo issues, depending where he’s campaigning.

Candidate Kari Nikrus at the Pirate Party stall, Tikkurila market, 17th March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

“I think the main things are what our party stands for, and immigration. That’s two questions people ask. Often they tell us that immigration is very important to them, and they want to know what our stand is, and they would like to know that we’re against it. The party itself doesn’t have a policy on this, so it’s more a personal thing. We have candidates that are candidates that are pro” says Pirate Party’s Kari Nikrus, who describes himself as “in the middle” when it comes to imigration.

“It’s something that has always happened, and it will always happen. It is normal. But we might be a bit too easy on the immigration question, like criminality and these issues. So we maybe should be a bit harder on that” he adds.

Centre Party candidate Tarja Edry at Tikkurila market, 17th March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Political party giants make their cases

The biggest political parties in Finland like the Centre Party of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and the National Coalition Party of Petteri Orpo need no introduction to voters. But the candidates do. And in an era where voters are much less likely to be ‘grandfathered in’ to the same political party their whole lives, or even from election-to-election, it’s as important as ever to get the candidates and street team volunteers out to meet the public.

Centre Party candidate Tarja Edry placed herself strategically at the entrance of Tikkurila market, right across from the metro station and shopping centre.

It’s the Jarvenpää school principal’s second time running for parliament and while she was a second runner up last time around on her party’s list, she reckons that the Centre Party’s waning poll numbers mean she probably won’t get to parliament again this time round.

“Almost everybody they have their own issues that they are worried about, but also older people are worried about children and youngsters. There are less young people, and more older people in Finland so they are thinking how we can manage this country in the future”.

Edry has been working 14 years as a school principal, and 25 years in total with children, and tells voters that she believes every decision the government makes should be taken with the rights, welfare and wellbeing of children in mind.

“I can see in the school they want more time with their parents, and this is one thing we have to think about” she says.

Social Democrat candidate Hussein Al-Taee at Tikkurila market, 17th March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

The Social Democrats tent is one of the busiest at the market, with plenty of campaign volunteers and family members on hand to support the candidates.

“Some people are interested and basically asking the question what are you going to do differently, and other people are saying ‘what we’ve seen based on how well the EU has been doing economically, and how well Finland has been doing economically, this government hasn’t done enough, we want a change in that regard” says first time parliamentary candidate Hussein Al-Taee.

“I think most people want politicians to meet and find middle ground, and to have a proper conversation that takes this country from a standstill on some positions to an actual change that serves the country the best” he says.

Al-Taee cites the stalled social, healthcare and regional reform – known as sote in Finnish – which failed to get through parliament, and prompted the resignation of the whole government earlier this month.

He notes that governments have been trying to carry out this reform in one way or another since the early 2000s. All the parties acknowledge that something needs to be done to change Finland’s system of social and health care, especially given the increasing costs of looking after an ageing population. But still there’s not been enough political consensus to reach agreement on a new deal for the country.

“It tends to be the trend in politics nowadays that people have short memories” he says wryly.