Thursday, 20 June 2019

Debate over climate change dominates Finnish vote

Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

HELSINKI: Voters in Finland are casting ballots in a parliamentary election after climate change dominated the campaign, even overshadowing topics like reforming the nation’s generous welfare model.

Finland, a European Union member of 5.5 million people, has one-third of its territory above the Arctic Circle. Most political parties support government actions to curb global warming.

Pre-election policy debates over what and how much the Nordic country should do revealed disagreement among voters. A populist party that was expected to do well on Sunday railed against public sacrifices in the name of fighting climate change instead of making immigration its main campaign issue, as anti-migrant, euroskeptic counterparts elsewhere in Europe have done.

“For everybody, it’s about the climate. It’s kind of a climate election. Everybody’s feeling some kind of a depression about it,” voter Sofia Frantsi, 27, an interior architect from Helsinki, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Over a third of those eligible to cast ballots voted in advance, choosing between 2,500 candidates from 19 political parties and movements for the Eduskunta legislature’s 200 seats. Preliminary results were expected later Sunday night.

The centrist Center Party that was the senior partner in the outgoing government; the center-left Social Democratic Party the conservative, pro-business National Coalition Party, the populist Finns Party, and the Greens, who enjoy strong popularity in Helsinki, are the political parties seeking to lead or have a voice in Finland.

“It’s clear a vast majority of Finns is hoping that the new parliament takes climate action,” Emma Kari, a Greens lawmaker, told the AP as she campaigned on Saturday. “Politicians need to take responsibility.”

Pre-election polls predicted that no single party was close to garnering enough votes to govern alone. If that proves true Sunday, the top vote-getter typically would try to form a new government with other parties as partners.

A Cabinet made up of ministers from different political parties is a long-time tradition in Finland.

The opposition Social Democratic Party, which has traditionally attracted working-class voters, topped a recent poll with 19% voter support.

“I haven’t closed out the (populist) Finns Party. I have said that if we are the first party, we’re going to ask all parties the same questions” Social Democratic Party leader Antti Rinne, a former finance minister and union leader, said after casting his ballot.”

“I have said that my values differ very much from (Finns Party chairman) Jussi Halla-aho’s values, and that’s a big question for me,” Rinne said, adding Finland’s government needs to have “the same value base.”

Rinne plans to raise taxes and increase spending to overhaul a costly Nordic social and health care system that is under strain as the nation’s population rapidly ages. The election “is about the Finnish future. The future is a big question for us, all this climate changing, education systems reforming … all kind of things are very important” to Finland’s people, he said. The Social Democrats also back the pro-European Union policies of Finland, which uses the shared euro currency but is not a NATO member. Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia.

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