Is this the future of election debates?

Published on Wednesday, 15th of February 2023

Peace Debate, 10.2.2023, Helsinki. Photos: Maria Santto / CMI

Finnish news media Ilta-Sanomat and leading peace mediation organization CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation have taken a new approach to combat polarization. Ahead of Finland’s parliamentary elections, they have turned the concept of an election debate upside down by hosting a “Peace Debate”, where candidates were measured by their ability to show empathy, build trust and find win-win outcomes.

Political polarization undermines societies around the world. Attempts to reverse this glooming trend have been scarce, as there is yet to be a clear consensus on what should be done. Now a surprising solution has emerged from Finland, where the first-ever “Peace Debate” was held last Friday, February 10th. The Peace Debate inverted the traditional concept of election debates.

Unlike regular debates, where participants try to dominate others and make them look bad, the Peace Debate requires the candidates to find shared solutions, build common ground and listen to each other. This way the new format of an election debate is not only bringing the competing candidates closer to each other but also setting an example for a better political discussion.

Top Finnish politicians including Finland’s current foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (The Greens) were invited from six different political parties. The debate dealt with political hot topics, such as immigration, the economy, and Finland’s NATO application.

After the debate participants were rated by the audience based on which of the candidates succeeded best in finding shared solutions. The voting was carried out digitally. Both the live audience as well as the online viewers were able to participate in the vote. Moderator Hanna Vesala from Ilta-Sanomat declared the current member of the Finnish parliament Elina Valtonen (National Coalition Party), as the winner.

Peace Debate calls for better political discussion and leadership

Election debates are a building block of democracy. They give voters important information about candidates’ political opinions and personalities. However, CMI believes that because the election debates follow a similar formula, it narrows down the kind of information voters get. CMI emphasizes that, despite disagreements, solutions must be found through dialogue and peacefulness.

Finland is internationally known for its conflict resolution skills. The world is moving in a direction where these skills are increasingly needed. Surely, disagreements are an essential part of political debate, but striving for shared solutions is not avoiding disagreements, it is the ability to come up with a widely accepted and functional solution”, said CMI’s CEO Janne Taalas.

Watch video clips from the Peace Debate (subtitled into English) here.
Download the PR materials here.


The Peace Debate’s participants:

Finland’s current foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (The Greens) and current members of the Finnish parliament Jussi Halla-aho (Finns Party), Anna Kontula (The Left Alliance), Tarja Filatov (Social Democratic Party), Elina Valtonen (National Coalition Party) and Jouni Ovaska (The Centre Party). 


For more information: 

Riikka Kämppi
Senior Advisor, Public Relations
CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation
Mob. +358 40 572 9733

Johanna Kaprio-Papageorgiou
Communications Manager
CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation
Mob. +358 50 584 3323