Finland: Immigrant candidates got most of their votes from native Finns

In the Helsinki and Uusimaa constitutences, there were twenty candidates of immigrant background standing for election to Parliament.

These are foreign nationals who have lived in Finland for some years and who have taken Finnish citizenship, which carries not only the right to vote in national elections, but the right to stand as a candidate.

There are a total of around 10,000 people of foreign extraction entitled to vote in Helsinki, and a further 5,500 in Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen (in the Uusimaa constituency).

Given the hitherto rather apathetic turnout (15 per cent voted in the last municipal elections, though this figure probably did rise somewhat in 2007) among this section of the population, it seems clear that many of the votes won by immigrant candidates came from the native Finnish population.

This observation is further borne out by the geographical distribution of the votes they received, which did not always correspond to areas with a large immigrant population.

In Helsinki, "New Finns" won 6,650 votes, with the lion's share or 4,174 votes going to the Green candidate Zahra Abdulla, and a further 1,042 to Zahra Osman-Sovala (SDP). The other eight hopefuls were left far behind them.

Zahra Abdulla came tantalisingly close to becoming elected as the first person of immigrant extraction in Finnish history to win a seat in Parliament.

In fact she has every reason to feel a little aggrieved, as she was listed by the Finnish Broadcasting Company among those heading for Parliament while the count was still going on, and was even congratulated live on camera for her triumph. As it happened, she was overtaken in the closing stages by two other Green candidates and fell narrowly short. She has vowed to try again, until she succeeds or some other foreign-born candidate can win election.

Zahra Osman-Sovala was also disappointed by the outcome, having hoped for a total closer to two or three thousand votes. Her cause was hampered by the generally poor showing of the Social Democrats.

A snap analysis of the locations where the votes came from - for instance in the case of Zahra Abdulla - indicates that she collected support predominantly from strong Green League parts of the city, and areas such as Jakomäki, Konala, and Myllypuro, which all have a sizeable immigrant population, come down at the very bottom of the list.

Her votes look to have come primarily from young, educated Finns with a multiculturalist mind-set who wanted to see the first dark-skinned MP in the Finnish Parliament. She was given hefty and concentrated support also on the strength of advance comments that she was indeed a viable candidate for election.

In the case of Zahra Osman-Sovala, her strongest area was the eastern suburb of Vuosaari, where she lives and works.

Unlike Abdulla, Osman-Sovala profiled herself as a Social Democrat first and a Finn of foreign extraction second, charging that to vote for someone merely based on their being "not originally Finnish" was counterproductive, since foreign-born Finns can be of almost any political persuasion you care to name.

In Uusimaa, the greatest number of votes - 960 - went to Hans-Christian Daniel of Espoo, who was standing for the National Coalition Party.

A total of around 2,140 votes in Uusimaa were given to the ten candidates of immigrant backgrounds.

Source: Helsingin Sanomat (English)

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