After a month-long postal voting process the results of the Sámi Parliament elections were announced in Inari on Tuesday afternoon.
The Sámi Parliament has 21 members and some of the seats are reserved – three members of the parliament are guaranteed a place from traditional homeland municipalities in Inari, Utsjoki, Enontekiö and Sodankylä.
The remaining nine seats are given to the candidates who polled the highest number of votes, no matter which municipality they live in – inside or outside the traditional Sámi homeland areas in Lapland.
There’s no party political affiliations in the Sámi Parliament, even if a candidate’s values may be aligned with a Finnish political party, and each candidate stands on their own individual platform.
The turnout was low this year, with just 48.58% of voters on the Sámi electoral roll casting their vote – a total of 2853 voters.
“There seems to be a huge share of Sámi people that we don’t reach, about half the Sámi population in Finland” says Pirita Näkkäläjärvi who was elected to the Sámi Parliament for the second time at this election.
“That’s so strange, have we lost them forever? They are in the electoral roll and they get a letter about the election to their home, so why then don’t they use their votes?” she asks.
As it’s a postal vote and there are no traditional polling centres, it’s not possible to tell which areas had higher or lower turnout.
A pre-election proposal to have a mobile polling station on a bus going to some of the more remote areas of traditional Sámi homeland didn’t pan out.
“My interpretation is that people are not used to filling out and sending paper forms any more. Everything is electronic, but this is one of the last legacy systems” Näkkäläjärvi tells News Now Finland.
Major issues facing the Parliament in Inari
The biggest issue facing the incoming Sámi Parliament members is the reform of the Sámi Act.
The proposed new legislation for the Act, which covers the relationship between the Sámi Parliament and the Finnish state, was voted down by the parliament in Inari last September.
The breakdown in the legislative process highlighted an apparent lack of understanding from the Finnish establishment of the red lines in Sámi society dealing with highly sensitive issues of identity.
It also brought back to the surface simmering divisions within Finland’s small Sámi population about who is a ‘true’ Sámi and who can be considered members of the tight-knit community.
“The Sámi Act is the most important thing because it is linked to everything. We must get the so-called Sámi definition amended according to the mainstream Sámi view, and get that definition applied to laws concerning the Sámi and many aspects of Sámi life like the ILO 169 ” explains Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, referencing the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on the rights of indigenous people which the state of Finland has never signed.
The incoming Sámi parliamentarians still have a majority who support a more limited definition of who can be considered Sámi; although politicians who want to widen this definition and who are not so strongly advocating for Finland to sign ILO 169 now have a strong minority within the Sámi Parliament itself, and a bigger voice in the direction the new parliament will take.