Johanna Ojala-Niemelä (SDP), the chairperson of the Constitutional Law Committee, was sat between deputy chairpersons Heikki Vestman (left) and Mikael Koillinen (right) during a public hearing on the Sami Parliament act in Helsinki on 23 January 2023. Ojala-Niemelä on Friday said the committee simply ran out of time with what it regarded as a “very important” legislative reform. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)


THE ACT on the Sami Parliament will not be reformed this electoral term.

The Finnish Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee on Friday voted nine for and seven against suspending its work to draft a statement on the bill, effectively postponing the long-awaited reform until at least the next electoral term.

Helsingin Sanomat reported that the fate of the bill may have been decided by the unavailability of two deputy committee members from the Social Democratic Party, Johannes Koskinen and Merja Mäkisalo-Ropponen. Tuula Väätäinen (SDP) was absent from the vote, but, with both of her deputies unable to attend the meeting, she was replaced by Markus Lohi, a representative of the second-largest ruling parliamentary group, the Centre.

With the Greens, Left Alliance, Social Democrats and Swedish People’s Party voting for continuing the work, the vote could have ended in an eight-to-eight tie. All of the Finns Party and National Coalition’s representatives, along with two-thirds of the Centre, voted for suspending the work.

A Centre Party representative voting blank on the bill came as a surprise to the Social Democrats, Koskinen messaged to Helsingin Sanomat from Vienna, Austria, where he attended a plenary session of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Johanna Ojala-Niemelä (SDP), the chairperson of the Constitutional Law Committee, said the committee ran out of time on what it regarded as a “very important” bill.

“[The committee] concluded that it is not prepared to issue a statement within this time frame,” she commented after the meeting according to YLE.

With the electoral term ending on Friday 3 March, the Constitutional Law Committee would have had to finalise its statement on the bill by 1pm on Friday, 24 February.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) on Friday expressed her regret about the bill’s fate, arguing contrastively that the committee should have had the time to finalise its statement. “The government presented the act to the Parliament by the deadline. There should’ve been no obstacles to discussing the act,” she wrote on Twitter.

Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson (SFP) similarly aired her frustration with what she described as an “unheard of” decision not to issue a statement on the bill.

“The Sami people would’ve finally deserved a new act on the Sami Parliament. From a constitutional perspective, there were no problems in the bill. Why did you block moving the bill to the session hall?” she asked, directing the question to the Centre, Finns Party and National Coalition.

Heikki Vestman (NCP), a deputy chairperson of the Constitutional Law Committee, shifted the blame to the ruling coalition for presenting the bill so late in the electoral term and without even an internal consensus on its content.

“The committee unanimously approved the view that, given its importance, this proposal was received too late from the government for the committee to have the time to consider it with due diligence. This proposal was advanced in accordance with what was possible as far as the committee is concerned,” he said.

Marin decided to present the bill to lawmakers despite objections from the Centre. Because the Centre was opposed to the bill, it would have required support from opposition parties – most likely the National Coalition – to pass the Parliament.

The purpose of the reform is to promote the right of self-determination for the Sami. Parties, however, have struggled to find common ground on questions such as the eligibility criteria for voting and running in elections to the Sami Parliament. Also the previous two governments attempted to reform the act, to no avail.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT