, HELSINKI, Jun 18 – Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen resigned on Friday ending seven years of government marked by sound policies but tinged with scandal, making way for the Nordic country\’s second woman premier.
"The president has accepted the government\’s resignation and asked it to continue on a caretaker basis until the new government has been formed and the ministers appointed," President Tarja Halonen\’s office said in a statement.
Vanhanen and his four-party, centre-right coalition government are thus expected to continue work until Tuesday, when parliament elects a new prime minister.
Halonen will then relieve the old government of its duties and appoint a new one, almost certainly led by Mari Kiviniemi, Finland\’s 41-year-old public administration and local government minister, who was voted the new head of Vanhanen\’s Centre Party at its congress last weekend.
The government parties are due to meet Friday and Saturday to prepare a new programme, and some ministerial changes are foreseen, at least to replace Kiviniemi if she becomes premier as expected.
While the shift in leadership also gives Finland an opportunity to readjust policies to tackle the economic uncertainties in Europe, no major changes are anticipated.
Vanhanen, 54, who has been prime minister since 2003, said last December he would step down as leader of the party at its next congress and was ready to end early his second term as head of government due to a leg operation.
But a drawn-out campaign financing scandal that has brewed around him and his party has sparked speculation about other possible reasons for his decision.
After his last European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday, Vanhanen told reporters he would reveal his reasons "after some years", according to Finland\’s leading daily Helsingin Sanomat.
"But there is no drama linked to this. And everyone will surely understand," he said. Finnish media reported the austere Vanhanen appeared relieved at the summit, even cracking jokes.
Following his resignation and a lunch with Halonen, national broadcaster YLE reported Vanhanen had left the presidential palace for a briefing in parliament in a car whose windshield bore a sticker reading: "It\’s over – 7".
Despite ending his second term early, Vanhanen\’s stint as head of state is one of the longest consecutive premierships in Finland\’s history, second only to that of former Social Democrat prime minster Paavo Lipponen.
"Vanhanen\’s work as prime minister has very much looked like him: calm and colourless management," Helsingin Sanomat wrote in an editorial, adding he rarely meddled with the business of his ministers and instead gave them a lot of power and in this way earned their appreciation.
His unfazed style extended from politics to his responses to the media furore that has raged over the financing scandal and his romantic liaisons since his divorce in 2005.
Like Vanhanen, Kiviniemi is considered a capable, knowledgeable and serious politician. She has been in parliament since 1995 and served as minister for foreign trade and development in 2005-2006 before taking up her current ministerial post in April 2007.
As prime minister, Kiviniemi would likely serve until the next parliamentary elections in April 2011, meaning Finland\’s two top posts would be held by women for the second time in its history.
Finland\’s first woman premier Anneli Jaeaetteenmaeki, also of the Centre Party, was in office for barely two months in 2003 before being replaced by Vanhanen following a political scandal.
The government\’s leading Centre Party hopes Kiviniemi\’s scandal-free image will help renew the battered party ahead of next year\’s elections and turn around a slide in ratings to secure a place in government beyond 2011.