MP Jussi Halla-aho, the leader of the opposition Finns Party, has announced that he doesn't plan to run for the post again at the party's annual meeting in August.
Halla-aho made the unexpected announcement during a party webcast on Monday, but noted that he told his "inner circle" about the plans last year.
Halla-aho has been the face of the euro-sceptic Finns Party since its founder Timo Soini left the party in 2017 in order to create a new political group which eventually became a fully-fledged party called the Blue Reform.
However, the veteran politician said that he would continue in his role as MP.
"I know that not everyone will like this [decision]," Hall-aho said on Monday, adding that he did not plan to take a position on his eventual successor.
"I don't know who will run," he said. "I look forward to it with the same interest as everyone else. I'm not going to take a position on it."
Yle News' All Points North podcast interviewed party leaders ahead of this year's municipal elections, including Finns Party chair Jussi Halla-aho.
Article continues after audio.
Party's parliamentary group chair sees opportunity
In a Facebook update reacting to Halla-aho's announcement, the party's parliamentary group chair Ville Tavio said a change in leadership was a new opportunity for the party.
"The Finns Party is a democratic, popular movement in which its leaders must be able to change," Tavio wrote, while thanking Halla-aho for his leadership over the past four years.
"[Our] support was raised from the grass roots and the party has shifted ideologically from populism towards a more rational, national, conservative direction," he stated.
"What I especially appreciate about Jussi is that it has been shown that he doesn't [take part in politics] for his own interests, but resolutely pursues Finland's overall interests," he continued.
Tavio did not mention in his post whether he is considering running for the party's leadership post himself.
Meanwhile, Arto Perttula, the party's local chair in Satakunta — a region from which the party has received the strongest support — said he was taken aback by the news.
"Very surprising news. I would have liked Halla-aho to continue. Of course, no person is bigger than a party. We certainly have valid alternatives," he said, suggesting in his opinion that Halla-aho had not been particularly enthusiastic about leading the party following Soini's departure.
Finns Party MP Petri Huru from Pori said that the party's parliamentary group had been informed previously about Halla-aho's decision to step down, but would not specify when the group learned about his plans.
Huru noted that there were several potential candidates for the party chair post, saying that the election process would not divide or weaken the party. However, he was reluctant to suggest names of potential candidates.
When asked, he also would not speculate on whether he thought Laura Huhtasaari, who's currently serving as an MEP, could be the party's next leader.
Later on Monday, in an interview from Brussels, Huhtasaari told Yle that she does not plan to stand as a candidate to lead the party in August.
Huhtasaari said she also wasn't interested in the vice chair post and that her life was now in Brussels.
She added that the Finns Party needs a nationalist, smart, unifying and objective leader.
Finns Party MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Juho Eerola, told Yle that he would have preferred that Halla-aho continued as chair of the party but that he thought his decision was healthy for the party's future.
"Halla-aho cleverly says that the party cannot be led by one person for too long," he said.
Eerola, who currently serves as the party's third vice chair, said he thought it was likely that he would be nominated for the vice chair post in August.
This story was updated at 14:30 on 21 June, 2021, adding reactions from various Finns Party members.
Added Laura Huhtasaari comment at 17:27 on June 21, 2021.
Added link to All Points North podcast interview with Halla-aho at 18:40 on June 21, 2021.