Petteri Orpo, the chairperson of the National Coalition, was pressed about the opposition party’s stance on short-distance social and health care services at a county election debate held on Wednesday by Helsingin Sanomat. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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THE RULING PARTIES and the National Coalition clashed over short-distance services at a county election debate hosted on Wednesday by Helsingin Sanomat.

Petteri Orpo, the chairperson of the National Coalition, was asked at the start of the debate to give a clear answer to whether the opposition party is prepared to promise that social and health care services be preserved in every municipality in Finland, a promise that has been a prominent feature of the campaign of the Centre Party.

“The National Coalition promises that irrespective of the municipality a person lives in, they’ll get the services they need,” navigated Orpo.

He argued that it is somewhat misguided to debate whether every municipality should have its own social and health care centre or its own social and health care service point. “It’s not the municipality that needs services, it’s the people,” he said, arguing that a municipality where no children are born has no need for a maternity and child health clinic.

Orpo was reminded by the moderators that he has previously estimated that his views on the matter align fairly well with those of the Centre. The Centre, however, has founded its position on municipal borders, stressing that every municipality should have its own social and health care centre.

“Regardless of the municipality of residence, people must have access to services,” reiterated Orpo. “The Centre is trying to portray the National Coalition as a party that’s eradicating basic services from the most remote, sparsely populated parts of Finland. That’s simply not the case.”

Li Andersson, the chairperson of the Left Alliance, Sanna Marin, the chairperson of the Social Democrats, and Annika Saarikko, the chairperson of the Centre, all accused the National Coalition of waffling over its position.

“The answer we got is that the National Coalition isn’t committed to preserving the current service network,” interpreted Andersson.

Saarikko argued that the question of short-distance services is critical as research has shown that their availability and utilisation curbs spending. “If the services are moved further away, their use decreases. That puts a strain on emergency services and special hospital care,” she said.

“The National Coalition’s stance on social and health care services feels hard to decipher – not only when it comes to these short-distance services, but also when it comes to what this reform should pursue,” stated Marin.

The county elections are held for the first time on Sunday 23 January. The elections will determine the composition of the councils of the 21 counties set up to organise social, health care and rescue services in Finland.

The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday reported that almost 1,036,000 votes were cast during the advance voting period that ended yesterday, accounting for 26.4 per cent of all votes.

Sami Borg, an election researcher at Tampere University, told YLE on Wednesday that the preliminary data on advance voting suggests voter in the elections turnout could creep up over the 50-per-cent mark.

“In normal situations, if we look at the latest parliamentary elections and the municipal elections in 2017 and earlier, we’ve usually seen advance voting account for 45–50 per cent [of all votes],” he said. “And if we could now reach the 50–50 ratio, then we’d still have a chance to go over 50 per cent for voter turnout in these county elections.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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