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President

Kaarlo Juho Sthlberg(1865-1952) 19191925
Lauri Kristian Relander(1883-1942)19251931
Pehr Evind Svinhufvud(1861-1944)19311937
Kysti Kallio(1873-1940)19371940
Risto Ryti(1889-1956)19401944
Gustaf Mannerheim(1867-1951)19441946
Juho Kusti Paasikivi(1870-1956)19461956
Urho Kekkonen(1900-1986)19561981
Mauno Koivisto(1923-)19821994
Martti Ahtisaari(1937-)19942000
Tarja Halonen(1943-)20002012
Sauli Niinistoe(1948-)2012 -
Under the constitution that took effect in March 2000, the established practice for managing foreign policy is that the president keeps in close touch with the prime minister, the minister for foreign affairs, and other ministers responsible for foreign relations. Constitutional changes strengthened the prime minister -- who must enjoy the confidence of the parliament (Eduskunta) -- at the expense of the president.

Under the Constitution of Finland executive power is vested in the President and the the Government composed of a Prime Minister and a sufficient number of ministers (presently not more than 18) who must enjoy the confidence of Parliament. This principle is reflected in other provisions of the Constitution concerning the President's functions and powers dealing with legislation, decrees, appointment of public officials, and so on. The number of matters within the scope of executive power has grown strongly since the 1919 Constitution was drafted. The centre of gravity in executive power has since shifted more towards the Government. EU membership has further contributed to this trend.

The President may upon the reasoned proposal of the Prime Minister, having consulted the parliamentary groups, and while Parliament is in session, order the holding of premature parliamentary election. The new Parliament is chosen for a normal four-year term. Parliament itself may decide when to end its session before the election day. From 1919 to 1991 the President's power to order a premature election was unqualified; he could do so when he considered it necessary. Presidents have ordered premature parliamentary elections on seven occasions: 1924 (Sthlberg); 1929 and 1930 (Relander); 1953 (Paasikivi); 1961, 1971 and 1975 (Kekkonen).

After parliamentary elections or in any other situation where the Government has resigned, the President, taking into account the result of consultations between the parliamentary groups and having heard the view of the Speaker, submits to Parliament his or her nominee for Prime Minister. If confirmed by Parliament with a majority of the votes cast, the President then proceeds to appoint the Prime Minister and other ministers designated by the latter. Whenever a Government is being formed or its composition is substantially altered, Parliament must be in session. As soon as its composition has been agreed upon, the new Government is appointed in the session of the resigning Council of Ministers, where the President first relieves the outgoing ministers of their duties and immediately appoints the new ones.

The foreign policy of Finland is directed by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government. However, the Parliament accepts Finland's international obligations and their denouncement and decides on the bringing into force of Finland's international obligations in so far as provided in this Constitution. The President decides on matters of war and peace, with the consent of the Parliament.

The Government is responsible for the national preparation of the decisions to be made in the European Union, and decides on the concomitant Finnish measures, unless the decision requires the approval of the Parliament. The Parliament participates in the national preparation of decisions to be made in the European Union, as provided in this Constitution.

The President takes all significant decisions in relation to foreign policy in co-operation with the Government, which does the preparatory work. Decisions relating to foreign policy guidelines, initiatives and instructions to official representatives of Finland in all questions of importance either in principle or otherwise are the responsibility of the President, who also decides on recognition of foreign states, the establishment or severance of diplomatic relations, on Finnish diplomatic missions, on joining or withdrawing from international organisations, on delegations to international negotiations, and on the signing, ratification and entry into force of international conventions (subject to parliamentary approval when required).

Historically, supreme executive power was held by the president, assisted by the Council of State. The president also had legislative power exercised in conjunction with the Eduskunta. As of 1988, the president was to be elected for a six-year term either directly by the Finnish people, or if an absolute majority is not reached, by a college of 301 electors selected in the same election. Previously the president was elected indirectly by the college of electors.

As of 1988, there was no limit on the number of terms a president might serve, but in the late 1980s legislation was being discussed that would permit no one to serve more than two consecutive terms. The president's only formal qualification is that he or she be a native-born citizen. Once elected, the president must renounce all other offices, and, with the aim of being a nonpartisan head of state, must cease being a member of any political party. His election, separate from that for the Eduskunta, gives him a distinct mandate that theoretically elevates him above routine politics. Another advantage of his long term in office is that it brings to Finnish political life a continuity that it has often lacked.

The president was not politically responsible to anyone. He can be removed from office only if the Eduskunta decides by a three-quarters majority that he is guilty of treason. He would then be tried by the Supreme Court (see Legal System , this ch.). The risks that such freedom from political responsibility entails are lessened because most of his executive decisions can be carried out only by means of the Council of State, and his legislative powers are realized through the Eduskunta.

The president's power to dissolve parliament and to call for new elections gave him, in theory, considerable influence over parliament, but ultimately he must work with an Eduskunta elected by the people. If he cannot convince a majority of the voters or the members of the Eduskunta to support his policies, he cannot act. An indication of the importance of this central element in Finnish parliamentary practice is that the Eduskunta has been dissolved only once--in 1924--against its will. The other half dozen dissolutions were caused by the inability of the government to agree on a common course of action.

It was the president who decided what legislative proposals are sent to the Eduskunta, although in practice government bills are drafted by the Council of State and are sent to parliament after presidential approval. Failure to sign them within three months of their passage amounts to a suspensive veto on the part of the president, a veto which can be overridden by a simple majority of the Eduskunta after new parliamentary elections. Both the presidential veto and the Eduskunta override have been rare occurrences.

Another important presidential power involved the formation of new governments. The president had the formal power to nominate ministers, but his choices are bound by what the parties seated in the Eduskunta will accept. His choices must correspond to the chamber's political composition. Within these limits, though, the president's force of character and political will influence the formation of a government. The president also had the right to dismiss ministers, either individual ministers, or, if he wishes, the entire cabinet. The president may issue decrees about details of public administration, as long as these measures are not contrary to laws passed by the Eduskunta. The right to change laws is a parliamentary prerogative, although an emergency law may grant the president this power in times of crisis, as was done in World War II.

The president nominated all senior civil servants, high judges, provincial governors, diplomats, professors at the University of Helsinki, high churchmen, and the chancellor of justice. In making these appointments, however, the president rarely departs from the names suggested to him by appropriate authorities. As commander in chief of the armed forces, a position he may delegate during wartime, as was done in World War II, the president also nominates military officers.

The president had the power to grant pardons and general amnesties, but the latter require the approval of the Eduskunta. Individual immunity may also be granted by the president, in accordance with certain provisions of the law. Moreover, the granting and the revocation of citizenship require the signature of the head of state.

The Constitution Act gave the president the responsibility for directing foreign affairs, and his authority in this area had grown markedly since World War II. The occasion for the decisive shift of presidential activity from principally domestic concerns to foreign relations was the threat a changing world order posed for Finland's survival; the crucial roles, played by President Paasikivi in formulating a new foreign policy and by President Kekkonen in consolidating it, restructured the office they held. Their success increased the prestige and the strength of the presidency beyond the formal powers already prescribed by the Constitution and enhanced the president's role as head of state.

By the late 1980s, however, a long period of stability both at home and abroad made the security and the direction provided by a strong and authoritative president seem less essential for the country's well-being, and there was serious discussion about limiting his power of intervention in the political process. Legislation was being prepared that would circumscribe his right to dissolve the Eduskunta and his role in the formation of governments; in the latter case, he would be required to take greater cognizance of the wishes of leading politicians. Other reforms likely to be realized in the next decade included curtailing the president's right to dismiss ministers, arranging for the direct election of the president, and limiting the president to two consecutive terms in office. Mauno Koivisto, first elected president in 1982 and reelected in 1988, supported reducing the traditional powers of the presidency. Observers held that these reforms would augment the governing roles of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the legislature and that they would mean that Finnish political practices came to resemble more closely those of other West European parliamentary democracies.

On February 5th, 2012 Conservative party leader Sauli Niinistoe won Finland's presidential election by a landslide and will become the country's first conservative president in 30 years. Officials say Mr. Niinistoe, of the National Coalition Party, won 63 percent of the vote in Sunday's second round. Green party candidate Pekka Haavisto won 37 percent. They were the top vote-getters in the first round two weeks earlier. Mr. Niinistoe is a former Finnish finance minister. He is a conservative, but backs cooperation with the European Union. Many in Finland demand the wealthy country stop supporting EU economic bailouts for troubled members. Mr. Niinistoe will be Finland's first president in three decades to come from a party other than the left-wing Social Democrats. He is replacing President Tarja Halonen, who was not allowed to run again after completing two six-year terms. The Finnish presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but does take charge of foreign affairs.



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Page last modified: 28-10-2012 12:43:50 ZULU