Finnish parliamentary election, 1907

Finnish parliamentary election, 1907

The Finnish parliamentary election in 1907, in the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, was the first parliamentary election in which members of parliament were elected to the new Parliament of Finland by universal suffrage.

The election followed the parliamentary reform of 1906 which replaced the Diet of Finland, which was based on the Estates and had its institutional roots in the period of Swedish reign, with a modern unicameral parliament of 200 MPs. The reform was agreed upon after a general strike in Finland in 1905 during which demands for a parliamentary reform arose especially among the Socialists. This coincided with similar development in Russia which too saw a general strike and, after the Russo-Japanese War, the birth of a new institution, the Duma. This background explains why Emperor Nicholas II of Russia allowed the parliamentary reform in Finland.

All political factions of Finland reached an agreement on the reform and the first election to the Parliament of Finland ( _fi. Eduskunta, _sv. Riksdag) were set for 1907. The 1906 reform ended the first period of attempted Russification in the Grand Duchy of Finland which had begun in 1899 and seen such dramatic episodes as the assassination of Nikolai Bobrikov, the Governor-General of Finland, in 1904.

Before the election of 1907 the legislative power in the Grand Duchy had been vested in the Diet of the Estates, an age old institution of four Estates (the nobility, the clergy, the burghers and the peasants) deriving from the period of Swedish rule and representing only a small portion of the people. This kind of institution had become quite ancient by the early years of the 20th century and the need for reform was thus genuine. The new unicameral parliament was to have 200 MPs, all elected by universal and equal suffrage of citizens over 24 years of age. Women as well were allowed to vote and stand for election; Finnish women received these rights as the first women in Europe. Previously only New Zealand had approved universal female suffrage, Finland was the second in the world to do that and the first to grant women the right to stand as candidates in election. Thus, in comparison with the former political system this reform can be considered radical.

The language strife of Finland was an important issue in the late 19th and early 20th century Finnish politics. Thus the first political parties of Finland, the Finnish Party and the Swedish Party, were born respectively around Fennoman and Svecoman ideas. A Liberal party was founded but soon also dissolved. The Finnish party was later split in the supporters of the "Old Finns" and the "Young Finns" who founded a party of their own. An even more important event was the founding of a Socialist party in 1899. First called the Finnish Labour Party, it adopted the name Social Democratic Party of Finland in 1903 and sought the support of urban working class and the rural landless population. Universal suffrage was naturally very important for these groups since they had no political power in the Diet of the Estates. In 1906 the Agrarian League was founded to represent the interests of peasants and in the same year the Swedish Party adopted its present name, the Swedish People's Party. The topics of the campaign into the election touched for example social issues and the parties' stances to the Russification attempts.

The results of this first parliamentary election in Finnish history were somewhat a surprise for the traditional parties: the Social Democrats came through as clear winners, gaining 80 seats of the total of 200, which made them the largest party, although they did not reach a majority of the seats. Of the right wing, or centre right, parties the Finnish Party gained the most seats, 59, followed by the Young Finnish Party, 26 seats, and the Swedish People's Party, 24 seats. The Agrarian League gained only 9 seats but in the following years its support grew rapidly. In the election of 1907 the voters voted for party lists rather than individual candidates.

As a result of the election the representatives of workers and the landless people became the largest group in the parliament, whereas previously they had no political representation whatsoever in the legislative body. Women too gained representation; 19 female MPs were elected. They became the first female MPs in the World.

The joy of the Social Democrats over their victory proved to be short lasting. The second period of attempted Russification in the Grand Duchy of Finland began the following year and the Russian Emperor dissolved the Parliament of Finland on numerous occasions in 1908-1917. During World War I the parliament did not convene for a long time. Thus the Social Democrats were not able to push through most of their desired reforms during these final years of the period of Finland's autonomy, despite being able to keep their position as the largest party in all elections of this period. As a result many Socialist supporters lost their initially high hopes for the parliament elected by universal suffrage. This in turn was one factor among others in the development which lead to the Finnish Civil War in 1918.

The parliamentary reform of 1906 and the Finnish parliamentary election of 1907 gave birth to Finnish democracy. The Parliament of Finland elected by universal suffrage has existed continually since then. When Finland gained its independence in 1917 the country already had a working parliament and experience of free elections, unlike many other new states which gained their independence during World War I or in its aftermath. The centennial anniversary of the 1907 election was celebrated by the Finnish parliament in 2007.


ee also

The 100th anniversary of the first Finish parliamentary was recently selected as the main motif for a high value commemorative coin, the €10 100th Anniversary of the Finnish Parliamentary commemorative coin, minted in 2006. The obverse shows the silhouette of a woman's and a man's hands, and below the hands ballots being inserted in a ballot-box. On the reverse, two stylized faces in the centre part, one male and the other female, separated by a thin curved line is depicted. They symbolize the equality of genders, as does the fact that the pictorial subjects on both sides are equal in respect to the centre of the coin.


* Toivo Nygård & Veikko Kallio: "Rajamaa", in "Suomen historian pikkujättiläinen" (edit. Seppo Zetterberg), p. 553-565, WSOY: Porvoo 2006. ISBN 951-0-27365-1

* Esko Heikkonen, Matti Ojankoski & Jaakko Väisänen: "Muutosten maailma 4: Suomen historian käännekohtia", p. 67-71, WSOY: 2005. ISBN 951-0-27645-6

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