(The original Finnish version was published in the newspaper Turun Sanomat on 6 June 2004.)
The closer we get to the European Parliament election, the more there is talk about modifying Finland’s electoral method. In other words, ”developing it to a more common European system”. It has been suggested that the currently used d’Hondt method encourages our political parties to approve celebrities as their candidates too easily. On the election day they are equal to the other candidates and the number of personally achieved votes is the only thing that makes the difference between the winners and losers inside a party or other alliance.
One of the alternative methods is the closed list system. Closed lists mean that political parties pre-decide who will benefit from the party’s votes. The candidates positioned highest on this list usually get seats even if they weren’t that popular among the citizens.
The newspaper Turun Sanomat published a many-sided article on this topic on 31 May 2004. The fact that the closed list system would emphasize the political party rather than an individual candidate was mentioned as a good feature. Moreover, the successful candidates wouldn’t be those who have the biggest budget but those who are, at least according to their political party, qualified for the position.
Well, possibly. But even so I can see how closed lists could bring us and our democracy some major problems. For instance, there is a possibility that a candidate is very skilled and popular but is at strife with the leaders of his or her party, and will therefore end up at the bottom of the party’s candidate list. In that case the candidate has practically no hope of getting a seat. This kind of a system would encourage the candidates to fight their own party colleagues for the highest positions of the list. In my opinion politics is wretched and cruel enough even without a modification like this.
Closed list systems take power from the people and give it to the political parties. It should be clear in any society with a representative government that the people, and only the people, select their representatives. Closed lists would also suggest that celebrities are ”worse” than the other candidates. In reality some of them are sincerely interested in politics and if people want to vote for them, they should have the option.
In our current open party-list proportional representation nobody knows beforehand who are the winning candidates inside a party. However, a voter can try to maneuver to prevent the worst candidate from winning. Using the closed list system obviously means that if someone who is incompetent happens to be at the top of the party’s candidate list, the only way to stop him or her from being elected is to reject the whole party and vote for some other party or alliance.
In practice selecting another party would probably be quite rare. I think most voters wouldn’t be bothered to maneuver that much just because of one candidate. That is to say, the candidate who has reached the list’s top position – one way or another – shall be elected, provided that the party itself isn’t too small.
The article in Turun Sanomat pointed out that ”there is a change tendency rather for adopting the closed list system than leaving it behind” in the European Union. In a country like Finland the system reform would probably be decided in the Parliament by the political parties without directly listening to the voice of the people. In the article both the Speaker Paavo Lipponen (Social Democratic Party) and professor Tapio Raunio stood for the closed list system, whereas the MEP candidate Ari Vatanen (UMP, France) found the system brutal. Moreover, the closed lists would prevent parties from getting renewed.
It’s worth noticing that Lipponen and Raunio have never been candidates in countries where closed lists are in use. They don’t have concrete experience on the issue. Vatanen, on the other hand, is currently UMP’s candidate number two in France which means that he will quite certainly be elected. Even so he is criticizing the method of closed lists. This should tell us something.