The dreariness of the global political landscape, dominated by ageing, distinguished gentlemen who are not distinguishably gentle in their ways, is alleviated by the election of Social Democrat Sanna Marin as prime minister of Finland. She will head a five-party coalition government in which 12 out of 18 cabinet berths are expected to go to women, leaving little elbow room for men with long heads and deep purposes.
A coalition with a distributed power structure is also a refreshing reminder to electorates which have become recklessly appreciative of strong men who command the allegiance of overwhelming majorities that all the people are not comfortable with absolute power all the time.
Marin is the world’s youngest prime minister at 34, which is five years younger than New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, who earned global admiration for her handling of hate crime. In a depressing contrast, about 1,000 miles from Helsinki, in London, another prime minister will be elected this week. He will be a man of either 70 or 55 winters, depending on whether Labour or the Conservatives prevail.
Also, Marin is the first person in her family with a university education. She represents the demographic dividend which is endlessly talked up, but generally does not get sufficient opportunity, or the education to do justice to it. She is also the child of same-sex parents in what she has described as a rainbow family. In the world’s biggest democracies, such a candidate would have sunk without a trace, leaving not a political ripple behind. She would have ticked all the wrong boxes and raised a tsunami of prejudice.
Coalitions in which a single party does not wield near-absolute power are often derided for being unable to just get the job done, since they have to accommodate the priorities of their constituent partners. It is not fully appreciated that a coalition, by diluting power, also offers built-in checks and balances — one of the fundamental mechanisms of democracy, which prevents a single party from amplifying majoritarian prejudices.
Also, while it cannot be assumed that power wielded by women is intrinsically less dangerous than power in the hands of men, a government in which women are numerically superior does harbour the possibilities of new priorities and will perhaps innovate processes. In a political landscape dominated by wilful men in a hurry, it offers a glimmer of a promising alternative.
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