Finland: A Neutral Finland

A Neutral Finland

Although during the late 1950s and early 1960s the USSR exercised some influence over internal Finnish politics (forcing, for example, the withdrawal of a candidate for president in 1962), during this period Finland began to follow a more neutral course in relation to the Soviets. In 1966, Communists were included in a coalition cabinet for the first time since 1948. In 1973 parliament passed an extraordinary law extending Urho Kekkonen's third term as president (he had been elected in 1956 and reelected in 1962 and 1968) for four years to 1978. He remained in office until 1981, when he was replaced by Mauno Koivisto.

The Finnish Communist party gradually lost influence throughout the 1970s, and finally split in 1985 along nationalistic and pro-Moscow lines. In the 1987 elections, the Conservatives filled the gap left by the Communists, and Conservative Prime Minister Harri Holkeri took office in 1987, heading a coalition government that included the Social Democrats. This left the Center party as the opposition for the first time since independence. The economic collapse of the USSR in 1991 caused a severe recession in Finland, as the country had traded extensively with the Soviets. Soviet disintegration also led to the scrapping of a 1948 Finnish-Soviet defense treaty and to a pledge by Russia to treat its Finnish neighbor as an equal.

In 1991, Esko Aho became prime minister, heading a center-right government, but his party suffered heavy losses in 1995 elections, and a left-right coalition government headed by Social Democrat Paavo Lipponen came into office. In 1994, Martti Ahtisaari, a Social Democrat and diplomat, became Finland's first president elected by direct popular vote (election was previously by an electoral college). Throughout the 1990s, Finland focused on reducing unemployment and increasing its integration with Western Europe; it became a member of the European Union in 1995. Tarja Halonen, the foreign minister, was elected president in 2000 and reelected in 2006; she was the first woman to hold the office.

Parliamentary elections in Mar., 2003, gave a narrow plurality to the opposition Center party, and party leader Anneli Jäätteenmäki became prime minister, heading a center-left government. The use of leaked government documents during the campaign by Jäätteenmäki, who had become the first female prime minister of Finland, led to her resignation in June, and Matti Vanhanen, also of the Center party, succeeded her. Jäätteenmäki, however, was subsequently acquitted on charges relating to the incident.

The parliamentary elections of Mar., 2007, again gave the Center party a narrow plurality; Vanhanen remained in office at the head of a reconstituted, center-right coalition. Vanhanen stepped down as Center party leader in June, 2010, and Mari Kiviniemi, the new leader, then also succeeded him as prime minister. In the Apr., 2011, parliamentary elections all the major parties lost seats, but the Euroskeptic and nationalist Finns party, which had previously held a handful of seats, placed third with almost one fifth of the vote and won 39 seats. The conservative National Coalition party (NCP), which won a plurality, secured 44 seats. In June a mulitparty government led by the NCP and with Jyrki Katainen as prime minister was formed.

Sauli Niinistö, the NCP candidate, won the presidency in Feb., 2012; he became the first conservative to be elected to the office in half a century. Katainen stepped down as prime minister in June, 2014, and Alexander Stubb, also of the NCP, succeeded him. The NCP lost the Apr., 2015, elections to the Center party, led by businessman Juha Sipilä, who became prime minister of a coalition cabinet that also included the NCP and the Finns party (replaced by New Alternative, a Finns offshoot, in June, 2017). President Niinistö was easily reelected in Jan., 2018.

In Mar., 2019 Sipilä's cabinet resigned over its failure to enact changes to the healthcare system. In the April election, the Social Democrats won a narrow plurality and 40 seats, but the Finns party won 39 seats and the NCP and Center party each won more than 30 seats. Social Democrat Antti Rinne subsequently became prime minister of a five-party government that included the Center and Green parties, but resigned in December over his government's handling of a postal strike. Sanna Marin, also a Social Democrat, succeeded him. The Social Democratic Party lost a close election in Apr., 2023, and was replaced as prime minister by NCP's Petteri Orpo.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Feb., 2022, Finland applied for NATO membership and ascended to the alliance in Apr., 2023.

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