The President of Finland
is the Head of State
. Under the Constitution of Finland
, executive power is vested in the President and the government, with the President possessing extensive powers. The President is elected directly by the people for a term of six years. Since 1991, no President may be elected for more than two consecutive terms. The President must be a native-born Finnish citizen
. The office was established by the Constitution Act
of 1919. The current office-holder is President Tarja Halonen
Officially the President is known as President of the Republic of Finland (Suomen tasavallan presidentti; Republiken Finlands president) or President of the Republic. This is in contrast to the former presidents, who retain the title "President".
Candidates for president can be nominated by registered parties which have received at least one seat in the preceding parliamentary election. A candidate may also be nominated by 20,000 enfranchised citizens. Between 1919 and 1988, the President was elected indirectly by an electoral college
made up of electors chosen by voters in the presidential election. In the 1988 presidential election, a direct and an indirect election were conducted in parallel: if no candidate could gain majority, the President was elected by an electoral college formed in the same elections. Since 1994, the President has been elected by a direct popular vote.
If only one candidate is nominated, he or she becomes President without an election. Otherwise, the first round of balloting takes place on the second Sunday of January in the election year. The elections are two-staged. If one of the candidates receives more than half of the votes cast, he or she is elected President. If no candidate wins the majority in the first stage, the top two candidates rerun in the second stage three weeks later. The candidate who then receives more votes is elected. In the event of a tie, the election is resolved by lot. The Council of State confirms the outcome of the election and, if necessary, conducts the drawing of lots. The President assumes office on the first day of the month following the election (either 1 February or 1 March depending on whether there were one or two rounds).
There have been several exceptional presidential elections. The first President, Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg, was chosen by the Parliament due to the transition rule of the constitution. In 1940 and 1943, the 1937 electoral college chose the President, as it was felt that a popular election could not be arranged due to the Continuation War. In 1944 special legislation directly stipulated that Marshal Mannerheim be elected President for six years after Risto Ryti had resigned mid-term. In 1946, special legislation empowered the Parliament to choose a successor for the remainder of Mannerheim’s term (until 1950), the latter having resigned. Parliament then chose Prime Minister Juho Kusti Paasikivi as President. In 1973, special legislation extended President Urho Kekkonen’s term by four years until 1978, when he was re-elected regularly.
The President-elect, accompanied by the Speaker of the Parliament
and the outgoing President, assumes office on the first day of the month following the election by making a solemn affirmation in both Finnish
at a ceremony in Parliament House
. The affirmation is specified in Section 56 of the Constitution:
- In Finnish: "Minä N.N., jonka Suomen kansa on valinnut Suomen tasavallan presidentiksi, vakuutan, että minä presidentintoimessani vilpittömästi ja uskollisesti noudatan tasavallan valtiosääntöä ja lakeja sekä kaikin voimin edistän Suomen kansan menestystä."
- In Swedish: "Jag N.N., som av Finlands folk har valts till president för republiken Finland, försäkrar att jag i utövningen av presidentämbetet redligt och troget skall följa republikens konstitution och lagar samt efter all min förmåga främja det finska folkets välfärd."
- In English: "I, N.N., whom the people of Finland have elected President of the Republic of Finland, affirm that in the execution of my office as President I shall sincerely and faithfully observe the Constitution and laws of the Republic and to the best of my ability promote the success of the Finnish people."
The term of the President-elect begins and that of their predecessor ends at the moment the solemn affirmation has been made (about 12:20 on the day of the inauguration). After the inauguration, the new President, accompanied by his or her predecessor, inspects the Guard of Honour outside Parliament House.
The President is formally styled as His/Her Excellency the President of the Republic of Finland (Suomen Tasavallan Presidentti; Republiken Finlands President).
Duties and powers
The President’s functions and powers are directly defined in the Constitution. In addition to those specified there, the President also discharges functions assigned to him or her in other laws. Under the Constitution of Finland, executive power is vested in the President and the Council of State, which 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, and appointment of public officials. Custom dictates that the President upon taking office renounce any party affiliation, so that he or she may be seen as neutral in regard to party politics.
Presidential Sessions of the Government
The President of the Republic makes official decisions during Presidential sessions of the Government, which are usually held at 11am every Friday. The President takes decisions in these sessions on the basis of a presentation by the minister to whose portfolio the item for decision belongs. Presidential sessions are chaired by the President.
All the ministers attend presidential sessions of the Government. Also present are the Chancellor of Justice or the Deputy Chancellor of Justice, plus the Secretary to Government Sessions, who keeps the minutes. As the President of the Republic alone takes the decisions at presidential sessions, no vote is taken on business presented. During the summer, presidential sessions are not held every week, and they may also be held at Kultaranta, the President's summer residence in Naantali.
Ordering premature parliamentary elections
Upon the proposal of the Prime Minister, the President may, 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 and he could do so when he considered it necessary. Presidents have ordered premature parliamentary elections on seven occasions. The President declares each Annual Session of Parliament open and closes the last Annual Session. This is done in a speech at each opening and closing ceremony.
Appointing and discharging ministers
The Prime Minister
and other members of the government are appointed and discharged by the President. 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 him or her. The President is constitutionally required to dismiss a Government or any minister as soon as they have lost the confidence of Parliament.
The President appoints:
- Governor, and other Members of the Board of the Bank of Finland
- Provincial Governors
- Chancellor of Justice and the Vice-Chancellor of Justice
- Prosecutor-General and the Vice Prosecutor-General
- Permanent Under-Secretaries of State, the highest appointed officials in each ministry
- The Permanent Secretary and Under-Secretaries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the inspector of embassies, and the ambassadors (heads of embassies)
- Heads of central agencies
Presidents have used these powers publicly, even against the internal recommendation of the agency.
In addition, the Presidents appoints or gives commission to:
- Officers of the Finnish Defence Forces and the Finnish Border Guard
- Permanent judges, including Presidents and Members of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, Presidents and Members of the Courts of Appeal and Administrative Courts of Appeal
The President conducts Finland’s foreign policy in co-operation with the Council of State. The provisions of treaties and other international obligations that affect domestic legislation are implemented by acts of Parliament. Otherwise, international obligations are implemented by a Presidential decree. Decisions on war and peace are taken by the President with the assent of Parliament.
The President must sign and approve all acts adopted by Parliament before they become law. He or she must decide on ratification within three months of receiving the act and may request an opinion from the Supreme Court or the Supreme Administrative Court before giving assent. Should the President refuse assent or fail to decide on the matter in time, Parliament reconsiders the act and can readopt it with a majority of votes cast. The act will then enter into force without ratification. If Parliament fails to readopt the act, it is deemed to have lapsed. Presidential vetoes are generally successful in preventing the bill becoming law.
In single cases, the President has the power of pardon from any imprisonment, fine, or forfeiture. General pardon requires an Act of Parliament.
The power of pardon has effectively become the instrument to limit "life imprisonments" to 12 years or more, since successive Presidents have eventually given pardon to all felons. The President, however, retains the power to deny pardon. In autumn 2006, the regular paroling of convicts serving a life sentence power was transferred to the Helsinki Court of Appeals, and the peculiar arrangement, where the President exercises judicial power, ended. The presidential power of giving pardon is, however, retained, although its use will diminish.
Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces
The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces
, but may delegate this position to another Finnish citizen. Delegation of the position of Commander-in-Chief is an exception to the principle that the President cannot delegate functions to others. The President commissions officers and decides on the mobilisation of the Defence Forces. If Parliament is not in session when a decision to mobilise is taken, it must be immediately convened. As Commander-in-Chief the President has the power to issue military orders concerning general guidelines for military defence, significant changes in military preparedness and the principles according to which military defence is implemented.
Decisions concerning military orders are made by the President in conjunction with the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Defence. The President decides on military appointments in conjunction with the Minister of Defence.
Under the Preparedness Act, in exceptional circumstances the President may issue a decree authorising the Government to exercise emergency powers for up to one year at a time. The decree must be submitted to Parliament for its approval. Should the powers available under the Preparedness Act prove inadequate in an emergency, additional powers can be assumed under the State of Defence Act. The President may declare a state of defence by decree for a maximum of three months initially. If necessary, it can be extended for a maximum of one year at a time. A state of defence may also be declared in a region of the country. The decree must be submitted to Parliament for approval.
The President, as Grand Master, awards decorations and medals belonging to the Order of the White Rose of Finland
, the Order of the Lion of Finland
and the Order of the Cross of Liberty
to Finnish and foreign citizens. Likewise, titles of honor are awarded by the president; these include, for example, Professor and different Counsellor titles. These titles are symbolic, carry no responsibilities and have a similar role as knighting
in monarchies. The highest titles are valtioneuvos
(statesman) and vuorineuvos
The current President of the Republic had a coat of arms designed shortly after entering office. The arms are surrounded by Sweden's highest decoration, Order of the Seraphim.
The President makes a number of important public speeches and statements each year. The most notable of these are the annual New Year’s Speech on 1 January, and the speech at the opening of each annual session of Parliament.
Former Presidents of Finland
Living former Presidents
Currently, there are two living former Presidents of the Republic:
The President has the use of three properties for residential and hospitality purposes: the Presidential Palace
, both in Helsinki
, and Kultaranta
on the west coast.
Incapacity and succession
The President of Finland has no vice president
. If the President is temporarily prevented from performing his or her duties, the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister becomes Acting President until the President’s incapacity ceases. If the President dies or if the Government declares that the President is permanently unable to carry out his or her duties, a new President is elected as soon as possible. If the President and the Prime Minister are both temporarily unavailable, the most senior ministers of the government, in years of service, become Acting Presidents.
If the Chancellor of Justice, the Parliamentary Ombudsman or the Council of State
deem that the President of the Republic is guilty of treason or high treason, or a crime against humanity, the matter shall be communicated to the Parliament. If the Parliament, by three fourths of the votes cast, decides that charges are to be brought, the Prosecutor-General prosecutes the President in the High Court of Impeachment and the President abstains from office for the duration of the proceedings.
The Independence Day reception
The traditional Independence Day Reception at the Presidential Palace on 6 December is one of the key annual events in the Presidential calendar. It originated as a celebration of Finland's national independence and pride, and although nowadays it is seen by some as a glorified social party, the reception is broadcast every year on television and draws a large viewing audience. The number of guests invited has varied from about 1,600 to 2,000.
The history of the Independence Day reception stretches back to 1919, when the first afternoon reception was held at the Presidential Palace. In 1922, President and Mrs Ståhlberg hosted the first evening reception at the Presidential Palace, with the reception beginning at nine o' clock. Guests included the Government, diplomats, Members of Parliament, high-ranking officers, senior civil servants, artists and other prominent people. Music and dancing were on the programme and the reception lasted until late at night. Similar receptions have been held ever since, though less regularly in the beginning.
Since 1946 the Independence Day reception has taken place at the Presidential Palace every year with four exceptions. In 1952 it was cancelled on account of President Paasikivi's illness. In 1972 it was held at Finlandia Hall in connection with the Independence Day concert, with the Prime Minister as host, because the Presidential Palace was being renovated. In 1974 it was cancelled on account of the death of President Kekkonen's wife. In 1981 it was held at Finlandia Hall after the Independence Day concert, with Deputy Prime Minister Eino Uusitalo as host, because President Kekkonen was in poor health.
The President and their spouse greet the guests individually in the State Hall at the beginning of the evening. Later on there is dancing, with music provided by the Guards Band. There is also a traditional buffet.
After Finland's independence and the Civil War in Finland
the matter of whether Finland should be a republic
or a constitutional monarchy
was much debated (see Frederick Charles of Hesse
), and the outcome was a compromise: a rather monarchy-like, strong presidency with great powers over Finland's foreign affairs
, the appointment of the Council of State
and the officers of the civil service
. The Constitution was changed in 2000, to redistribute some of this power to the Parliament and the Council of State. The new constitution specifies how the principles of Parliamentarism
are to be followed (although Finland's presidents have done so since 1937 nonetheless).
Pre-Presidential Heads of State
From the date of Finland's independence on 6 December 1917 until the end of the Finnish Civil War
in May 1918, Per Evind Svinhufvud was the head of state of White Finland
in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate
. His counterpart in the Finnish Socialist Workers' Republic
was Otto Ville Kuusinen
. Between May 1918 and July 1919, Finland had two Regents
(or Protectors of State
) and, for a time, an elected King, although the latter renounced the throne:
- Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, Regent (18 May 1918 12 December 1918)
- Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, elected as King of Finland on 7 October 1918 but never took office and renounced the throne on 4 December after Germany's defeat in World War I he had not time enough to arrive in Finland before the political climate changed following the end of the war. It is said that his regnal name was to be Väinö I of Finland ('Väinö' obviously referring to Väinämöinen, one of the main characters in the Finnish national epic Kalevala), but due to there not being contemporary records of this name it is widely considered a popular misbelief, probably created by columnist Väinö Nuorteva.
- Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Regent (12 December 1918–27 July 1919)