Sámi Parliament repeat election started: two candidates nominated thanks to court ruling

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The repeat elections of the Sámi Parliament started Monday, June 3, and the voting ends July 1 at 6 p.m.

The Sámi Parliament is the supreme political body of the Sámi in Finland representing the Sámi in national and international connections. It consists of 21 members and four deputies.

As reported earlier by the Barents Observer, Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court annulled the Sámi Parliament election held last October. Contrary to the decision of the Parliament’s governing bodies not to recognize the individuals in question as eligible voters or candidates, the court ruled 65 persons to be included in the electoral roll and repeat elections to be held. All Sámi who are listed in the electoral register are entitled to vote and stand as candidates in the elections.

The current President of the Sámi Parliament, Piritta Näkkäläjärvi, called the ruling “devastating news” in her speech at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April. She stated that ”We [Sámi people] are forced to include outsiders as electors in the Sámi Parliament in Finland – a representative body that is supposed to for and by the Sámi”.

Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, President of the Sámi Parliament in Finland called the court ruling “devastating news”. Photo: Ville-Riiko Fofonoff / Sámediggi | Saamelaiskäräjät

Five candidates who did not run for parliament in the 2023 election stand as candidates in the repeat election. They are Paavo Riihitammela, Kari Kyrö, Inka Kangasniemi, Marko Tervaniemi and Antti Sujala.

Kari Kyrö and Inka Kangasniemi were members of the Sámi Parliament during the term 2020-2023. Kyrö was not registered to the electoral roll in the election in October 2023.

Kari Kyrö confirms that he and Paavo Riihitammela were added to the Sámi Parliament’s electoral roll as a result of the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling. 

In Yle’s questionnaire sent out to the Sámi candidates, both Kyrö and Riihitammela oppose the reform of the Sámi Parliament Act. In their answers, Riihitammela states that “Language alone does not define a person’s identity. Removing the “Lapp tax” clause would mean discriminating against thousands of Sámi people in Finland.” and Kyös says that “the new language criteria for selecting individuals for the electoral roll cannot in any way assist the Inari Sámi people… and that it will lead to further discrimination.” 

Out of the 35 candidates running for the Sámi Parliament, 29 answered Yle’s questionnaire. Seven candidates oppose the reformed Sámi Parliament Act, 18 candidates support it and four candidates are neither for nor against.

Kari Kyrö, is one of two candidates added to the electoral roll as a result of the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling. Photo: Sámediggi/ Saamelaiskäräjät/ The Sámi Parliament

Long-drawn debate

The debate over who to include in the electoral roll in the Sámi Parliament elections has been ongoing for many years. In 2019 and 2022 United Nation treaty bodies accused Finland of violating human rights conventions due to the Supreme Administrative Court’s involvement in deciding whom to enroll to the electoral roll. The UN treaty bodies obliged Finland to review the Sámi Parliament Act to ensure that the criteria for voting in Parliament elections respects the Sámi peoples’ right to self-determination.

One of the most contentious topics of the current law, and the reform, is who to include in the election roll. In the reformed act, the so-called “Lapp tax” clause is removed. According to the clause descendants of a person who has been marked in a taxation, land or population register as a mountain, forest or fishing ‘Lapp’ is allowed to vote and run for parliament. As a compromise to the removal of the “lapp tax”, the language criteria has been revised. Under the reform, it is sufficient if one’s great grandparent spoke Sámi as their first language, contrary to the current requirement stating that one’s grandparent needed to do so.

The long-delayed Sámi Parliament Act, which has failed to be passed by the three previous coalitions, was introduced by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s government to parliament in February this year.