Finland/Government

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Finland has a mixed presidential/parliamentary system with executive powers divided between the president, who has primary responsibility for national security and foreign affairs, and the prime minister, who has primary responsibility for all other areas. Constitutional changes made in the late 1980s strengthened the prime minister --who must enjoy the confidence of the parliament (Eduskunta) --at the expense of the president. Finland's 1995 accession to the European Union has blurred the line between foreign and domestic policy; the respective roles of the president and prime minister are evolving, and plans are under consideration to rewrite the constitution to clarify these and other issues.

Finns enjoy individual and political freedoms, and suffrage is universal at 18. The country's population is ethnically homogeneous with no sizable immigrant population. Few tensions exist between the Finnish-speaking majority and the Swedish-speaking minority.

President and Cabinet. Elected for a 6-year term, the president:

  • Handles foreign policy, except for certain international agreements and decisions of peace or war, which must be submitted to the parliament;
  • Is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has wide decree and appointive powers;
  • May initiate legislation, block legislation by pocket veto, and call extraordinary parliamentary sessions; and
  • Appoints the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet (Council of State).

The Council of State is made up of the prime minister and ministers for the various departments of the central government as well as an ex-officio member, the Chancellor of Justice. Ministers are not obliged to be members of the Eduskunta and need not be formally identified with any political party.

Parliament. Constitutionally, the 200-member, unicameral Eduskunta is the supreme authority in Finland. It may alter the constitution, bring about the resignation of the Council of State, and override presidential vetoes; its acts are not subject to judicial review. Legislation may be initiated by the president, the Council of State, or one of the Eduskunta members.

The Eduskunta is elected on the basis of proportional representation. All persons 18 or older, except military personnel on active duty and a few high judicial officials, are eligible for election. The regular parliamentary term is four years; however, the president may dissolve the Eduskunta and order new elections at the request of the prime minister and after consulting the speaker of parliament.

Judicial system. The judicial system is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and special courts with responsibility for litigation between the public and the administrative organs of the state. Finnish law is codified. Although there is no writ of habeas corpus or bail, the maximum period of pre-trial detention has been reduced to four days. The Finnish court system consists of local courts, regional appellate courts, and a Supreme Court.

Administrative divisions. Finland has 12 provinces. Below the provincial level, they are divided into cities, townships, and communes administered by municipal and communal councils elected by proportional representation once every four years. At the provincial level, the 11 mainland provinces are administered by provincial boards composed of civil servants, each headed by a presidentially appointed governor. The boards are responsible to the Ministry of the Interior and play a supervisory and coordinating role within the provinces.

The island province of Aland is located near the 60th parallel between Sweden and Finland. It enjoys local autonomy by virtue of an international convention of 1921, implemented most recently by the Act on Aland Self-Government of 1951. The islands are further distinguished by the fact that they are entirely Swedish-speaking. Government is vested in the provincial council, which consists of 30 delegates elected directly by Aland's citizens.

Political parties. Finland's proportional representation system encourages a multitude of political parties and has resulted in many coalition governments. Political activity by communists was legalized in 1944, and although four major parties have dominated the postwar political arena, none now has a majority position. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) gained a plurality in Finland's parliament in the general election of March 1995. But it won far less than an overall majority and so formed a five-party governing coalition.

The SDP won 28% of the vote in 1995, mainly among the urban working class but also with some support among small farmers, white-collar workers, and professionals. The Leftist Alliance (LA) -- the SDP's rival on the left--gained 11% of the vote in 1995 and joined the SDP-led government. The LA was formed in May 1990 and replaced the People's Democratic League, the group that represented the Finnish Communist Party in the Eduskunta.

Finland's two other major parties are the Center Party, traditionally representing rural interests, and the National Coalition--or Conservative--Party, which draws its major support from the business community and urban professionals. The Center won nearly 20% and the Conservatives 18% of the vote in 1995. The Conservatives are the second-largest party in the SDP-led coalition, which is rounded out by the Swedish People's Party and the Green Party. The Center Party leads the opposition in Parliament.

Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of Finland
conventional short form: Finland
local long form: Suomen Tasavalta
local short form: Suomi

Data code: FI

Government type: republic

Capital: Helsinki

Administrative divisions: 6 provinces (laanit, singular - laani); Aland, Etela-Suomen Laani, Ita-Suomen Laani, Lansi-Suomen Laani, Lappi, Oulun Laani

Independence: 6 December 1917 (from Russia)

National holiday: Independence Day, 6 December (1917)

Constitution: 17 July 1919

Legal system: civil law system based on Swedish law; Supreme Court may request legislation interpreting or modifying laws; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: President Tarja Halonen (since 1 March 2000)
head of government: Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen (since 13 April 1995) and Deputy Prime Minister Sauli Niinisto (since 13 April 1995)
cabinet: Council of State or Valtioneuvosto appointed by the president, responsible to Parliament
elections: president elected by popular vote for a six-year term; election last held 6 February 2000 (next to be held NA February 2006); prime minister and deputy prime minister appointed from the majority party by the president after parliamentary elections
election results: Tarja Halonen elected president; percent of vote - Tarja Halonen (SDP) 51.6%, Esco AHO (Kesk) 48.4%
note: government coalition - SFP, Kok, Leftist Alliance (People's Democratic Union and Democratic Alternative), SFP, and Green Union

Legislative branch: unicameral Parliament or Eduskunta (200 seats; members are elected by popular vote on a proportional basis to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 21 March 1999 (next to be held NA March 2003)
election results: percent of vote by party - SDP 22.9%, Kesk 22.5%, Kok 21.0%, Leftist Alliance (Communist) 10.9%, SFP 5.1%, Green Union 7.2%, SKL 4.2%; seats by party - SDP 51, Kesk 48, Kok 46, Leftist Alliance (Communist) 20, SFP 11, Green Union 11, SKL 10, other 3

Judicial branch: Supreme Court or Korkein Oikeus, judges appointed by the president

Political parties and leaders: Center Party or Kesk [Esko Aho]; Ecological Party or EPV [Eugen Parkatti]; Finnish Christian Union or SKL [C. P. Bjarne Kallis]; Green Union [Satu Hassi]; Leftist Alliance (Communist) composed of People's Democratic League and Democratic Alternative [Claes Andersson]; Liberal People's Party or LKP [Pekka Rytila]; National Coalition (conservative) Party or Kok [Sauli Niinisto]; Rural Party or SMP [Raimo Vistbacka]; Social Democratic Party or SDP [Paavo Lipponen]; Swedish People's Party or SFP [(Johan) Ole Norrback]; Young Finns [Risto Penttila]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Communist Workers Party [Timo Lahdenmaki]; Constitutional Rightist Party; Finnish Communist Party-Unity [Yrjo Hakanen]; Finnish Pensioners Party

International organization participation: AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, BIS, CBSS, CCC, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G- 9, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM (guest), NC, NEA, NIB, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNIKOM, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOGIP, UNMOP, UNTSO, UPU, WEU (observer), WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, ZC

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Jaakko Tapani Laajava
chancery: 3301 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 298-5800
FAX: [1] (202) 298-6030
consulate(s) general: Los Angeles and New York

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Eric Edelman
embassy: Itainen Puistotie 14A, FIN-00140, Helsinki
mailing address: APO AE 09723
telephone: [358] (9) 171931
FAX: [358] (9) 174681

Flag description: white with a blue cross that extends to the edges of the flag; the vertical part of the cross is shifted to the hoist side in the style of the Dannebrog (Danish flag)