Helsinki City Council tramples on Finland’s biggest municipal referendum initiative

Dec 9, 2021

Helsinki City Council has rejected Helsinki’s first and Finland’s biggest municipal initiative for a referendum and thus said NO to local democracy.

The municipal initiative proposed a municipal referendum on whether Malmi Airport should be kept in aviation use – yes or no. The initiative did not take a position on whether or not Malmi should be kept in aviation use. A large number of councilmembers voted blatantly against the policies of their own parties. Turning down the initiative is a kick in the face of municipal democracy.

The need to amend the Local Government Act is obvious

According to Section 25 of the Local Government Act, a minimum of four per cent of the municipality’s residents over the age of 15 may make an initiative to hold a municipal referendum.  

The initiative rejected by Helsinki City Council had been signed by more than 31.000 local residents, almost six per cent of the population of Helsinki. 

– As such a widely supported initiative did not progress, Section 25 of the Municipal Act in its current form is in practice a dead letter. While in accordance with the letter of the law per se, this rejection is certainly not legitimate in the minds of citizens, said one of the initiators of the initiative, Timo Hyvönen, on Wednesday after the historic vote of Helsinki City Council.

Exceeding the level of support required by law one and a half times shows that the issue is important for the residents. Citizens of the municipality have the right to disagree with decisions made representatively, and to bring such matters to direct decision-making through municipal initiatives. In practice, the decision of Helsinki City Council to reject the initiative nullifies the significance of municipal initiatives.

Frank Töölö, one of the initiators of the Lex Malmi bill, proposes a change in the law:

– The decision reflects the need to amend the law on municipal referenda. The legislature must clearly define the grounds on which a municipal referendum initiative may be denied or must not be held. Such grounds may be, for example, the initiative being in violation of the law or good manners, or the fact that the matter to be voted on does not fall within the competence of the municipality.

The grounds for rejection do not stand up to scrutiny

It was argued, among other things, that the referendum would be costly to organize and could affect previous decisions. According to the Council, it would therefore be inappropriate to hold a referendum. It is, however, to this end that municipal initiatives have been written into law. Rather, there seems to be a fear that the result of the referendum might be wrong. This deliberation by the Council is a worrying precedent, as subsequent deviations from local democracy are now easier.

As the referendum now isn’t being held to clarify the situation, the Malmi airport issue is likely to be discussed for years to come, even decades, before the matter is resolved. The decision has given new impetus to the large popular movement in Helsinki and around Finland to defend Malmi Airport.

The situation at Malmi Airport is unclear. Zoning, protection and building permits for the area are being addressed now and in the years to come in several courts.

– Through their inappropriate and arrogant handling of the municipal initiative, which called into question old decisions and far exceeded the minimum support defined by law, the councilmembers have recorded their names in Finnish history, Hyvönen estimates.

The initiators of the initiative are Lex Malmi active Frank Töölö, the chairman of the Friends of Malmi Airport Association Timo Hyvönen and the Chief Mayor (ret.) Raimo Ilaskivi. The decision of the council is not yet final.

Voting results

Jussi Halla-Aho’s proposal to return the matter to preparation and to have the referendum. For referendum (red), against referendum (green).
Thomas Wallgren’s counter-proposal to the City Board’s proposal. For referendum (red), against referendum (green).

Voting result:

YEA (against the municipal initiative)

Ahmed Mahad (SDP)

Alanko-Kahiluoto Outi (Green)

Arajärvi Pentti (SDP)

Arhinmäki Paavo (Left)

Borgarsdóttir Sandelin Silja (SFP)

Diarra Fatim (Green)

Gebhard Elisa (SDP)

Haatainen Tuula (SDP)

Harjanne Atte (Green)

Heinäluoma Eveliina (SDP)

Hiltunen Titta (Left)

Holopainen Mari (Green)

Honkasalo Veronika (Left)

Huff Shawn (Green)

Iskanius Anniina (Coalition)

Jalovaara Ville (SDP)

Juva Kati (Green)

Järvinen Jukka (SDP)

Karhuvaara Arja (Coalition)

Kivekäs Otso (Green)

Kivelä Mai (Left)

Korpinen Sini (Coalition)

Koskela Minja (Left)

Lindgren Minna (Green)

Majok Ajak (Left)

Malin Petra (Left)

Meri Otto (Coalition)

Miettinen Nina (Green)

Nuorteva Johanna (Green)

Pajula Matias (Coalition)

Pajunen Jenni (Coalition)

Pakarinen Pia (Coalition)

Rantanen Tuomas (Green)

Rautava Risto (Coalition)

Razmyar Nasima (SDP)

Rissanen Laura (Coalition)

Rydman Wille (Coalition)

Said Ahmed Suldaan (Left)

Sarkomaa Sari (Coalition)

Sauri Pekka (Green)

Sazonov Daniel (Coalition)

Sinnemäki Anni (Green)

Soininvaara Osmo (Green)

Suomalainen Nina (Coalition)

Sydänmaa Johanna (Green)

Taipale Ilkka (SDP)

Torsti Pilvi (SDP)

Tuomi-Nikula Tuomas (Green)

Valtonen Elina (Coalition)

Vanhanen Reetta (Green)

Vartiainen Juhana (Coalition)

Vesikansa Sanna (Green)

Vierunen Maarit (Coalition)

NAY (for the municipal initiative)

Ahde Hilkka (SDP)

Asko-Seljavaara Sirpa (Coalition)

Biaudet Eva (Swedish)

Bogomoloff Harry (Coalition)

Ebeling Mika (Christ. Dem.)

Grotenfelt Nora (Swedish)

Hagman Oona (Movement Now)

Hakola Juha (Coalition)

Halla-aho Jussi (Finns)

Harkimo Harry (Movement Now)

Hyttinen Nuutti (Finns)

Kaleva Atte (Coalition)

Kolbe Laura (Center)

Kopra Pia (Finns)

Korpinen Laura (Finns)

Makkonen Teija (Finns)

Muttilainen Sami (Left)

Månsson Björn (Swedish)

Niskanen Dani (Coalition)

Nygård-Peltola Mia (Coalition)

Packalén Tom (Finns)

Peltokorpi Terhi (Center)

Perunka Sanna-Leena (Movement Now)

Raatikainen Mika (Finns)

Rantanen Mari (Finns)

Ruohonen-Lerner Pirkko (Finns)

Saxberg Mirita (Coalition)

Vepsä Sinikka (SDP)

Wallgren Thomas (SDP)


Kauppila Elina (Left)

Nevanlinna Tuomas (Left)

Rantala Marcus (Swedish)