Europe

Finland elections: Candidate putting public in the picture

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Media captionJani Leinonen demonstrates his cut-out poster. Video courtesy of Komeetta Ltd

Campaigning ahead of Finland's parliamentary elections on Sunday has been dominated by the major parties with a clear frontrunner emerging. But one independent candidate is doing things differently to encourage people to vote.

It does not take long to see the campaign machines of Finland's political parties in action.

The pavements in Helsinki are awash with colourful posters with the faces of candidates beaming out at passers-by on Mannerheimintie, the capital's main street.

A green and yellow tram, emblazoned with a campaign poster, buzzes past while a bus with a campaign pledge thunders along the cobble-stone road.

The main parties are out in full force, handing out chocolates and fruit juice in an attempt to sweeten up voters while babies unwittingly promote political parties by having colourful balloons attached to their prams.

Image caption Faces of parliamentary candidates line the streets of Helsinki

One campaign poster is noticeable because the face of the independent candidate, Jani Leinonen, has been cut out.

"It's not actually me who is running. I'm just representing the people who vote on the questions I'm asking, so everyone can be Jani Leinonen.

"When you stick your head through the hole you become the candidate," he says.

'Get a say'

Mr Leinonen is a contemporary artist best known for stealing and decapitating a Ronald McDonald statue as part of an art project questioning McDonalds' quality of food and work ethics.

Image caption Jani Leinonen says his campaign has sparked a lot of debate

He has now turned his attention to getting more people interested in politics.

"Participation levels have been decreasing for three decades. We need to figure out new ways of engaging people in politics because it's everyone's business to be involved."

If elected, 37-year-old Mr Leinonen has promised to put all of the parliamentary issues on his website for people to vote on. His vote in parliament would be based on the majority public view in spite of his personal opinions.

"I'm just a tool that people can use to get into the parliament and at least get a little say in what actually happens there.

"Now you just get to write a number on a voting paper which isn't much."

'Ineffective'

At the last general election in 2011, six governing parties formed a coalition ruled by the National Coalition Party (NCP). Now four parties remain after the Left Alliance and Green League walked out.

Finland's Prime Minister, Alexander Stubb of the NCP, assumed the role nine months ago after Jyrki Katainen resigned to take up a role at the European Commission. The NCP is trailing in the polls against a backdrop of a struggling economy.

Mr Stubb recently admitted his government has been "ineffective", citing difficulties in getting the coalition to agree on a raft of reforms.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Finns are expected to oust the government of Prime Minister Alexander Stubb

"I'm an eternal optimist. I believe that Finland will make a comeback, I believe my party will make a comeback and hopefully I will make a comeback," he says.

But Juha Sipila - a millionaire businessman - and his Centre Party lead the polls and look set to take over the reigns of power. Sipila has vowed to curb "reckless" spending and says he will create 200,000 private-sector jobs over the next 10 years.

Back on the campaign trail, Jani Leinonen admits he is unlikely to get the 15,000 votes needed to enter parliament but says he has achieved some of his aims.

"As an artist I am fighting for freedom of expression and this campaign has sparked a lot of debate. This is a project to open up politics because so much is done behind closed doors.

"A lot of anonymous people have sent me photos of their voting paper with my candidate number written on it so there will be some votes for me.

"Things can't change if people don't vote."

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