This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series.
On April 2, 2023, Finland held national elections for its legislative assembly, the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta in Finnish and Riksdag in Swedish, the second official language of Finland). The election produced a new majority in the nine-party-parliament, causing the first all-female cabinet made up of five parties to concede and declare defeat.
The opening of parliament also kicked off the government formation process, in which a prime minister is appointed by the members of parliament, and that prime minister puts together a team of ministers to make up a cabinet. The process starts out with government formation talks where a political agenda is agreed upon. This process started on May 2, 2023.
Yesterday, on June 20, 2023, a new government was appointed, ending Sanna Marin’s caretaker government that oversaw “routine matters” between the election and the swearing-in of the new government. Marin held a speech during her final visit with the president.
This post will explain how governments are formed in Finland and why the government formation may take a few months. It is not entirely dissimilar from the government formation process in neighboring Sweden, which I have written about previously.
1. What form of government does Finland have?
Finland is a parliamentary republic. (1 § Finnish Constitution, Suomen perustuslaki (Finnish), Finlands grundlag (Swedish).) The president is head of state and is elected every six years. (54 § Finnish Constitution.) The next election is scheduled for January 28, 2024.
2. Election to Parliament
Parliamentary elections are held every four years. (24 § Finnish Constitution.) In order to be eligible as a candidate for parliament, one must be a member of a political party. (25 § Finnish Constitution.) The Finnish Parliament has 200 members and is unicameral.
Early elections may be called by the Finnish president, following a request by the prime minister and after the president has heard all the parties represented in parliament. (26 § Finnish Constitution.)
3. Who selects the prime minister?
The prime minister is elected by the parliament and appointed by the president. (3, 61 §§ Finnish Constitution.) A simple majority is required. (Id. 61 §.) Petteri Orpu was elected with 107 votes in favor and 81 votes against. The prime minister must continue to have the support of the parliament throughout his or her term. Formally selecting a prime minister with a vote in parliament happens after the government formation talks have concluded.
4. Who selects the ministers of the government?
The prime minister may suggest who should serve with him or her in the cabinet, but it is formally the president who selects the ministers. (61 § Finnish Constitution.)
5. Who initiates the government formation talks?
Finland is a nine-party parliament, so typically no party wins an absolute majority of the votes, meaning party leaders must gather support for a coalition government together with other parties. Usually, the parties announce who they are willing to cooperate with in a government prior to the election. Thus, the coalition results can be presented during election night, and a projection for a winner be made.
The law does not require that the party with the most votes negotiates a government, but rather the leader who can gather the most support throughout parliament.
In accordance with the constitution, the president presents a candidate for the role of prime minister who gets to negotiate the government formation after having consulted the speaker of the parliament. (61 § Finnish Constitution.)
6. What happens after the parties agree to a political plan?
After the leaders of the parties agree on a political program for the duration of its term, the program, written in Finnish, is sent for translation into Swedish and English. (62 § Finnish Constitution.) Because of the time it takes to translate the document, a government cannot be announced the same day. Orpo’s government presented its program on June 16 and was elected by parliament on June 20.
7. What is the longest it has taken for a government to be declared?
In 1951, it took Urhu Kekkonen 79 days to form his government, which is exactly how long it took for Orpo this time around, making Kekkonen and Orpo tied for the longest government formation processes in independent Finland’s history. Since the Second World War, it has taken between 25 and 79 days to form a government.
8. Can a Finnish government be removed?
The Finnish Constitution provides that the prime minister needs the support of parliament to serve, and political parties that make up the coalition government can withdraw their support at any time during the mandate period. (61, 64 §§ Finnish Constitution.)
This happened was in 2019, when the Center Party withdrew its support for Prime Minister Annti Rinne over his handling of the postal strike crisis. As a result, Rinne resigned by handing in a request for resignation to the Finnish president. Sanna Marin was selected as Rinne’s successor and the Center Party accepted the move, as its lack of support was with Rinne personally, not with the party.
9. Additional Law Library of Congress online resources about the Finnish parliament:
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