Aland liberals, centrists in close election race

Both parties could secure 7 seats each in islands' 30-member Parliament · Centre party proposes "safe, gradual way" to enlarged autonomy within Finland · Pro-independence party could retain all 3 current seats

parliament aland
Parliament of Aland. Author: Hellahulla (Wikimedia Commons).
Liberals and centrists are in a close battle to win Sunday 18th legislative election to the Parliament of Aland, an autonomous archipelago belonging to Finland. The campaign has been marked by a debate on the quota of refugees that the islands should take in. One of the parties running for election, Future of Aland, advocates a gradual course towards independence.

Swedish-speaking Aland islands received autonomy in Finland for the first time in 1921. Their self-government was expanded in 1951 and again in 1991. The islands have their own government, parliament and citizenship law.

According to an opinion poll released 3 weeks ago, the Liberals for Aland are set to become the largest party in the islands, with 7 seats out of 30 in the local legislature, the Lagting. With less votes, but the same number of seats, Aland Centre is placed close to the Liberals. The centrists' manifesto argues the islanders should have the right to decide their own political future and to increase their autonomy within Finland "in a safe and gradual way." The Liberals' manifesto does not mention the issue.

The Moderates of Aland could come close to both parties, with a predicted 6 seats in the Lagting. The Aland Social Democrats could fall to the fourth place, with 4 MPs. Both parties are pro-autonomy and their manifestos do not include proposals for any substantial change in the islands' status.

Placed fifth according to the survey comes the Future of Aland party, which is predicted to secure 3 seats. Future for Aland advocates full independence from Finland, albeit with a medium- or long-term horizon. The pro-independence party says Aland should be joining several regional and international bodies, and its football national teams should be receiving official recognition from UEFA, before 2022. The party then argues Aland should be granted full internal autonomy before 2032. The last step would then be full independence, which could happen by 2040.

In the 2011 election, Aland Centre obtained 7 seats, followed by the Liberals and the Social Democrats, with 6 seats each. The Non-Alligned Coalition -now in crisis- and the Moderates won 4 each. Last place was for Future of Aland, with 3 MPs.

With these results, social democrat Camilla Gunell became the prime minister of Aland. Her coalition government, besides her own party, includes the Aland Centre and the Moderates.

The refugee debate

The election campaign in the traditionally peaceful Alandic political arena has been shaken by the debate on how many refugees should the islands be hosting. A new voter alliance, Aland Democrats, is running for election on a platform that is critical of "naïve multiculturalism" espoused by traditional Alandic parties. The Aland Democrats' manifesto says the islands should stop taking in more refugees from "risk countries". According to the survey, the voter alliance could secure one seat.

To varying degrees, all other parties support continued reception of refugees to Aland. Liberals and social democrats are those who are more in favour of that. The pro-independence party also espouses a similar view, and insists that more resources should be allocated to integration policies.