Once again, the elections are upon us.
Finland was the second country in the world to give all women the right to vote in 1906. The first nation to adopt universal suffrage was New Zealand, under British sovereignty. I know, this was ages ago, back in the black and white days, but let’s put that in some perspective. Sweden adopted universal suffrage in 1921, Italy in 1945, Switzerland in 1971, Portugal in 1976, and Saudi Arabia in 2015.
Soon after arriving in Finland, I noticed that people almost never reveal to anyone who they vote for. If I asked someone who they voted for, I almost always received a look of shock, followed by “I can’t tell you, it’s a secret ballot”. The more I heard people say this, the more I thought people had misunderstood the meaning of a secret ballot. It often felt like they wanted to tell me, but couldn’t because they were ordered to keep it a secret. It’s not a rule, it’s a privilege and an entitlement.
When asking people why voting is so secretive in Finland, I was given a number of reasons. I was told the Finnish Civil War split Finland into the Red team and White team 101 years ago. Finns have always been a homogenous folk, despite having their land owned by Sweden and Russia. Dividing the nation into two teams, is something that is just not the Finnish way. Back then, believing in the wrong political system got you a bullet in the head. So, perhaps the trauma received from the civil war still lives on today. Finns do not want to be identified by their political opinions, which is probably also the reason why Finns will still vote more for a political candidate, than a political party. As with everything in Finland, things have changed very quickly. Nowadays almost anyone will tell you who they voted for, without fear of being shot.
A few years ago, I was ordered to attend a Parliamentary Committee in Parliament. This is the place where they make big decisions for Finland, distributing the money we give them. Walking into the room, I was faced by a famous skier, a pop star, a DJ, a wife of a celebrity, and so on. Okay, we had all the ingredients for a great Finnish party, but this was when I really started thinking about the system of democracy and how democratic it actually is.
I feel democracy today is increasingly undemocratic. The United States of America has always preached to the world how democratic they are. If they have a true democracy, how was it that the presidential elections had the wife of an ex-president standing up against a game show host? If it’s a true democracy, that means each one of their 330 million people has the same opportunity to become elected as president.
If you are planning on voting, choose your candidate wisely. The fact that someone is good at skiing, singing or dancing humppa does not mean they are the best people for running the country. Winston Churchill (my Kekkonen) said the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. This might be true, if we look at Trump and Brexit – today’s biggest failures in democracy.
If you’re not interested in politics, at least go and talk to the candidates. You can complain about subjects that are very important for all of us, subjects such as dog poo and cross-country skiing tracks, and you might even get a free sausage
published in Lappilainen