Idiosyncratic, Technocratic, Democratic or Simply Pragmatic? A Parties’ Perspective on Electoral System Change in Finland, 1906-1969
Whilst in Klaus Törnudd’s (1968, 57) words “converting the Finnish electoral system into a unique list system with votes for individual candidates”, the extent of electoral system change in 1955 was relatively limited. In Carey and Shugart’s (1995) terms, Finland shifted from the 1906 system of ‘open lists with open endorsement and multiple votes’ – voters could rank order candidates – to a system in 1955 of ‘open lists with open endorsement and a single vote’. Indeed, the scholarly debate about this electoral system change has revolved not so much around its scale as i) the contemporary perception of its long-term significance and ii) the extent to which the reform was party politicised. Was the 1955 reform a case of ‘idiosyncratic change’ (Benoit 2004, 372) that emerged more by default than design (Karvonen 2011, 130, Railo 2016, 76); ‘technocratic change’ (Sundberg 2002, Renwick and Pilet 2016, 115), driven by legal experts rather than the political parties; ‘democratic change’ initiated primarily out of concern to enhance the proportionality of the electoral system – or what? I make the case that the 1955 reform represented ‘simply pragmatic change’. I argue that, when viewed from a parties’ standpoint, the 1955 legislation gave statutory force to a progressive de facto reduction in the preferential element in the electoral system that the parties had engineered over the previous half century. In a real sense the parties, in running singlecandidate ‘lists,’ had fostered a personalisation of electoral politics and an individualisation of candidate campaigning. Equally, in reducing the number of candidate preference votes, the 1955 legislation, when viewed from a voter standpoint, gave de jure force to a de facto de-personalisation of the electoral system. Paradoxically, a personalisation of electoral politics was in no small measure driven by a de-personalisation of the electoral rules.