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Finland: Municipality Elections Postponed Because of COVID-19 Pandemic

(Apr. 5, 2021) On March 26, 2021, the Finnish Parliament voted to approve a two-month postponement of the country’s municipal elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The elections, originally scheduled for April 18, 2021, will now be held on June 13, 2021. In accordance with the decision, early voting was also rescheduled for May 26 to June 8, 2021, for voters voting in Finland and for June 2 to June 5, 2021, for voters voting abroad.

In accordance with the Finnish Election Act (Vallag (FFS 714/1998)), municipal elections must take place on the third Sunday of April every four years. There is no specific law that specifies that an election may be postponed or under what circumstances such postponements may be adopted, but the Election Act can be amended through legislation or deviated from through a separate piece of legislation, as in this case. The Finnish parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee, however, cautioned in GruB 4/2021 that postponements must be used only when there are compelling reasons (tvingande skäl) to do so, and considered the Finnish government and Finnish president’s declaration of a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic to be a compelling reason.

The Finnish government and president had announced on March 6, 2021, that they would propose postponing the elections, citing fears of spreading the coronavirus. In determining the duration of the postponement, the government also considered the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s evaluation that most at-risk groups will have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by June. After reviewing the proposal, the Finnish Constitutional Committee favored the postponement, and Parliament voted to voted to approve the proposal, incorporating minor changes by the Constitutional Committee. As a result, the terms of sitting municipal representatives will automatically be extended until July 31, 2021. Representatives who resign at the expiration of their original mandate on June 1, 2021, will be succeeded by an alternate for the remainder of the term. The term of incoming municipal representatives elected in 2021 will not be extended past the original mandate, which expires on May 31, 2025.

The next elections for the national Parliament, scheduled for April 2, 2023, are not affected by the changes to the municipal elections.