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Katri Kulmuni seeks Centre Party leadership

The economic affairs minister will challenge fellow cabinet minister Antti Kaikkonen for the post.

Katri Kulmuni
Minister of Economic Affairs Kulmuni hails from Tornio in southwestern Finnish Lapland. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Katri Kulmuni, a second-term MP from Finnish Lapland, has become the second candidate to announce a bid for the post of Centre Party chair.

In September, the party is to elect a new leader to replace current chair and former prime minister Juha Sipilä.

Now one of the party's deputy chairs, Kulmuni was sworn in as Minister of Economic Affairs three weeks ago. She threw her hat into the ring for the leadership at a press conference in Helsinki on Wednesday, saying that "exceptional situations call for exceptional solutions".

Kulmuni is a 31-year-old from Tornio on the Swedish border in southwest Lapland. She was the northern electoral district's most popular candidate in April's parliamentary election, garnering more than 8,000 votes.

Before being named as minister, she had held no major posts beyond chairing the Finnish Delegation to the Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. She has a master's degree in social sciences.

Eyes on finance ministry

So far the only other candidate for the post is MP and Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen, former CEO of the scandal-ridden Finnish Youth Foundation. Mikko Kärnä, another second-term MP from Lapland, says he is seriously considering a run for the post.

Kulmuni indicated that if elected she would be interested in becoming finance minister, the party's weightiest portfolio in the new cabinet, now held by Mika Lintilä.

"I think it is sensible and logical that power and responsibility are in the same place, so the party chair should also be the finance minister," she said.

Kaikkonen, seen by many as Sipilä's choice as his successor, was widely expected to become finance minister but was instead named to the defence portfolio.

Sipilä quits after 7 years

Sipilä has led the party since 2012, during which time its popularity soared and then crashed, with a stunning collapse of support in this spring's parliamentary election. Nevertheless the party continued on into the new government coalition, with five ministers out of 19 in the cabinet. Sipilä said he would not become a minister and would step down from the party leadership, becoming a backbench MP.

Two other Centre politicians mooted for the post have said they will not run: deputy chair and Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko and the leader of the party's parliamentary group, Antti Kurvinen.

The Centre has had two female chairs in its 113-year history, former prime ministers Anneli Jäätteenmäki and Mari Kiviniemi, but neither served for a full legislative term.

The Centre, formerly known as the Agrarian League, has scheduled a party conference for 7 September in the southeastern city of Kouvola.

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