Municipal elections are held in Finland this coming Sunday. Along with all Finnish citizens over the age of 18, citizens of other countries who have had residence in Finland for at least two years also have the right to vote. More information concerning voting in Finland can be found here: http://www.infopankki.fi/en/information-about-finland/finnish-society/elections-in-finland
We met two young candidates who are standing to be elected.
Fatim Diarra, 30 is born in Helsinki. She has worked as a teacher, and is currently studying at the University of Helsinki. Fatim has been active not only in the party politics, but also in NGOs and organizing campaigns for example to help refugees.
Tarik Ahsanullah, 24 is studying law at the University of Helsinki. Tarik is born in Turku, but moved to Helsinki to study. He has been active in student politics and wants with his campaign inspire other young people to take part in making a change in the society.
What made you want to go in to politics?
Fatim: I joined the party in my late teens. I was taking part in a student exchange program in Canada and I saw how some of my friends, who came from impoverished backgrounds, couldn’t even dream of going to university. I wanted to make sure that we would never happen in Finland. I was active in the union of upper secondary school students and in the scouts and experienced that I really could make a difference and change things. That experienced has carried me this far.
Tarik: I joined the party in the spring before taking my final exams from Senior High School. In the University I was first very active in my faculty association, but soon also started to be active in student politics. I have become more and more ambitious as I have gone along and last summer I started to think about municipality elections.
Do you come from a political family?
Fatim: I come from a politically very active family. There has always been lively discussions on politics in our home and there have been people with different views and political stands around the table. Just having an opinion was never enough, you also needed to be able to argument well.
Tarik: Also in my family background there are politically active members, but we did not talk politics at home. I was more inspired by school, as civics was my favorite subject.
There has been lot of talk about young people not voting. At the municipal elections four years ago, only one in three young people voted. How could we get more young people interested in politics?
Tarik: I think school holds the key here. They have shun away from politics in schools, but I think they should be more open to political parties. I have during my campaign met a lot of young people, and many of them just don’t have even the basic knowledge about municipal elections and their right to vote.
Fatim: There should be more lessons about democracy in schools. Democracy is not something that is taken out of the cupboard during elections, but it is our way of life. I would also argue, that if we want to get young people to vote, we need to take voting where they are. If the voting is only made available in some post offices, where older generations are used to go, it is like hiding the voting from young people. Voting should be made more available to young people, and not just think that things have been ok so why change.
Tarik: I would also say, that at least in the municipal elections the age limit to vote could be lowered. If we think of 15 year olds for example they already have many rights and responsibilities, like criminal liability and right to labor contract. Why would they not be ready to decide about things that concern their life very closely, like school and living?
The candidates and parties have turned more and more to social media when it comes to advertising, is that good way to reach young people?
Tarik: It is hard to say whether young people are really reached this way. In many cases social media is full of bubbles. For example my Facebook feed has been full of information on elections for months already, but this is not the case for all young people. Besides, social media is constantly overflowing with pictures and stories, even if there is an advertisement or two in the newsfeed, it is alone not enough to make young person get up and go find voting place on a Sunday.
Fatim: I have also been thinking whether social media really reaches young people. Social media alone is not enough to make them participate. The whole system should be made more accessible.
Helsinki is a great city, but even here there is segregation, some areas are doing better than others. What could be done to avoid inequality?
Tarik: We have to admit there is a problem and try to fix it more actively. Private and rented apartments should be spread more evenly through the city. There should be a variety of people in each area. It should also be possible, that same building could have private residences and tenements.
Fatim: Some areas have a better reputation than others. Those areas that are worse off could be revamped to make them more livable. There should be more public services available and make people feel safer.
Immigrants and EU-citizens residing here have not been too keen to vote, even if they have the right to do so. Only one in five people with immigrant background voted in the last municipal elections. What could we do?
Fatim: Political parties should be more active in recruiting those persons that are active within the immigrant communities to take part. If we only take interest in them when there is an election coming that is just a gimmick. Politics should be more open. When people see how it works, taking part becomes easier.
Tarik: I think it has a lot to do with integrating in the society. The more successful social integration is, more likely you are to vote. Information about Finnish society should be made available for newcomers more readily.
Are you sometimes frustrated by politics?
Fatim: Yes, sometimes. Just last night I was so frustrated, as I was following this discussion thread online. When I have reached my limit, I might be very vocal about it, but after a while I just make up a plan for a way forward. You cannot give up.
Tarik: I have to say I have not been frustrated yet, and I can’t afford to be, if I want to get something done. Of course you might be disappointed if things don’t go as planned. But you have to be very motivated to look ahead and be ready to compromise from time to time.
Lately in Finland, the culture of public argumentation has changed. Even extreme opinions are said aloud. What are your thoughts on that?
Fatim: If discussion reaches an area where basic human rights are violated, or if I see that the person is not sharing my view of humanity, I find it hard to accept. I do not tolerate any kind of racism or discrimination.
Tarik: Many people have said that for example the television panel where young party leaders where presented was much more civilized. Young people can show example in this. I think in student politics the culture of argumentation is very good, we think that the issues might clash, not the people. In youth politics, there can be friendships and relationships across party lines.
What have been your finest moments in politics so far?
Fatim: United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution called Young people, peace and security 2030. The draft for the resolution was made in Finland in 2008, and after hard work it was pulled through. Another achievement is having young people now part of making climate decisions. Having been part of making these great changes is pretty awesome.
Tarik: After something big is decided, it feels good, but I think in politics best moments are those little achievements, and there are surprisingly many of those. For example if a committee has started and opinions couldn’t be further away from each other, but after having a few meetings, we can reach an agreement even without voting. Those moments restore my faith in politics.
Editor: Anna Gustafsson