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Ex-PM Vanhanen elected speaker of parliament

The Centre Party MP takes up the position nine years after resigning as PM.

Matti Vanhanen keskustan eduskuntaryhmän kokouksessa Helsingissä 7. kesäkuuta 2019.
Matti Vanhanen keskustan eduskuntaryhmän kokouksessa Helsingissä 7. kesäkuuta 2019. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Parliament convened on Friday to elect a speaker and deputy speakers for the new four-year parliamentary term, choosing MPs from the Centre, SDP and Finns Parties for the roles.

Matti Vanhanen of the Centre took the top job, with SDP MP Tuula Haatainen and Finns Party legislator Juha Eerola chosen as deputies.

The National Coalition Party (NCP) protested at being left outside the speakership by abstaining from the confirmatory vote. By convention the speaker comes from the second-largest party, with his or her deputies providing a balance.

In the last parliamentary term however, all three spots went to government parties--which were also the three largest parties in parliament.

This time round the Finns Party had demanded that the speakership be a Finns Party MP, as they are the second largest group of MPs in parliament.

Discussion culture

In his acceptance speech Vanhanen touched on the more direct style of political debate that has emerged in recent years.

“Our century-old form of government is currently producing some creative tension between the government and parliament,” said the 63-year-old. “Let’s use that for the common good. As speaker I will work to advance a culture of debate in which differences of opinion are not hidden, but we value others’ motives and avoid deliberate misunderstandings.”

He also expressed the hope that MPs would reform the workings of committees in parliament.

In her speech, Haatainen said that she hoped parliament would provide a good example of a culture of discussion and debate, and that MPs should respect one another and remember that parliament is a workplace.

Eerola, on the other hand, said that stressing hate speech had the effect of restricting freedom of speech.

Vanhanen took 141 votes in the closed ballot, with 39 abstensions. Three candidates got one vote each and two ballot papers were rejected.

Comeback kid

A political veteran who was once voted ‘sexiest man in Finland’ by readers of a gossip magazine, Vanhanen was first elected to parliament in 1991 before resigning his seat in 2010 along with the post of Prime Minister after a bruising campaign financing scandal.

He ran for president in 2018 but didn’t make the second round, polling just 4.1 percent of the vote.

In other parliamentary business, the Centre Party group elected Antti Kurvinen as its leader, replacing Antti Kaikkonen who will be Defence Minister in the new government. The Left Alliance chose Paavo Arhinmäki to lead its MPs replacing Aino-Kaisa Pekonen who has been named as the minister in charge of social affairs and health.

The Swedish People’s Party’s MPs will be led by Anders Adlercreutz, while the Finns Party has nominated Mika Niikko to lead the Foreign Affairs committee.

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