May 4, 2017 / 1:48 PM / 3 years ago

Finland holds public cabinet meeting to promote democracy

PORVOO, Finland (Reuters) - Finland’s government held its weekly cabinet meeting in front of the glare of a live audience for the first time on Thursday, part of celebrations for the Nordic country’s first hundred years of independence.

Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipila speaks to media after government's open session for members of public took place during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence in Porvoo, Finland May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Ministers said they want to find ways of increasing openness and dialogue with voters after a low turnout — 58.8 percent — in April’s local government elections.

At the meeting, which lasted about an hour, ministers took decisions on public office nominations and a body to handle compensation payments to forest owners for damages inflicted by wild animals.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila said it was business as usual.

“It seemed like a combination of playacting and actual decision-making”, said Aki Saariaho from Open Network Finland which promotes open democracy.

“People should have more opportunities to interact with elected officials. But this is a good start.”

Almost 600 people watched the cabinet in action in Porvoo, a town by the Baltic Sea where the first parliament of Grand Duchy of Finland convened in 1809 after becoming an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. It remained a part of the empire until 1917.

Today, Finland is ranked among the world’s top ten most democratic countries, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

At the meeting, some ministers said they believed online tools could be used to deepen direct democracy at local government level, such as via online referendums, and supported lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.

Finance Minister Petteri Orpo said that cyber security would, however, need to be enhanced before online votes could be introduced. Social media already gave voters a platform to critique government, he said.

“For now, it’s good that social media storms keep us awake and offer us kind of referendums that support the decision-making.”

Reporting by Tuomas Forsell and Jussi Rosendahl; editing by Richard Lough

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