This Nordic center of high-tech leadership is about to have a national election, but it is one in which candidates do their utmost to avoid irritating their opponents, national parties promote their similarities, not their differences, and the outcome has little bearing on policy.

-- New York Times, March 15, 2003

After 8 years in the opposition, the expected glacial shift occurred and Keskusta (Centre Party) managed to grab an extra 7 seats in the 200-seat Parliament, barely squeaking past the Social Democratic Party (SDP), even though they too increased their share by 2 seats. The loser was the third party of Finnish politics, the rightist Kokoomus (National Coalition), who surrendered 6 seats.

But the New York Times was right: the change was not over issues (the three parties' platforms are all but indistinguishable), but over personalities, particularly the next prime minister. Voters rallied to either the challenger, Centre's iron woman Anneli Jäätteenmäki, or the prime minister for the past two terms, staid but dependable Paavo Lipponen of the SDP. The National Coalition had no suitable candidate to field and suffered.

Outside the Big 3 there were small changes afoot. The Green Party continued its slow climb, despite being rocked by junior candidate Markus Drake's loud support for drug legalization and, worse yet, confessing to smoking cannabis. The biggest surprise, though, was the meteoric rise of former boxer, professional wrestler and populist loudmouth Tony "The Viking" Halme, whose "blame it on the immigrants" rhetoric got him the highest number of votes in Helsinki and helped the True Finns grab 3 seats. On the losing side were the Swedish People's Party and the Christian Democrats, who lost a disproportionate number of seats despite the Christian Democrats actually gaining more votes.

Voter turnout was 69.6%, in line with the 68.3% recorded in the previous elections (1999), and bucking the trend for ever-decreasing turnout. The largest party in Finland, however, remains the "sleeping party", since 30.4% of the electorate stayed home.


Centre             55 seats (+7) 24.7% (+2.3%)
Social Democrats   53 seats (+2) 24.5% (+1.6%)
National Coalition 40 seats (-6) 18.5% (-2.5%)
Left Alliance      19 seats (-1)  9.9% (-1.0%)
Greens             14 seats (+3)  8.0% (+0.7%)
Swedish People      8 seats (-3)  4.6% (-0.5%)
Christian Democrats 7 seats (-3)  5.3% (+1.2%)
True Finns          3 seats (+2)  1.6% (+0.6%)
Others              1 seat  ( 0)  0.5% (-0.3%) 

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