Delegates to an extraordinary meeting of Finland's Centre Party have elected Katri Kulmuni has their new party chair. Kulmuni defeated the only other candidate for the position, defence minister Antti Kaikkonen, by gaining 1,092 votes compared to Kaikkonen's 829. She takes over the reins of the party from Juha Sipilä, who decided to step down from the position after the party was soundly defeated in April's general elections.
Kulmuni said told the gathered crowd that the work would start now to change the agrarian-backed Centre Party from a "10 percent party to a 20 percent party". She will serve as the Centre Party chair until Sipilä's term would have ended in the summer of 2020, when the party congress was originally set to choose a leader.
Before the vote, MP Joonas Könttä from the central Finland city of Jyväskylä explained why he was planning to support Kulmuni as the party's next leader.
"The Centre Party looks towards the future from a difficult position, and I believe that Katri is the best choice for us moving forward. She is modern, very competent, and a very centrist choice. I think she also appeals to new people," he said.
Sipilä's farewell address focused on achievements
Outgoing chair Juha Sipilä spoke to the assembly, pointing out that his austerity-minded government coalition created 14,000 new jobs during his term in office. He told the gathered delegates that he would have liked to continue as the party chair, but the Centre Party's trouncing at the ballot box this spring – resulting in the loss of 18 parliamentary seats – made it clear to him that it was best to step down.
Kulmuni will have her work cut out for her, as support for the party fell to 13.8 percent in the last election, putting the once-on-top Centre Party in fourth position behind the nationalist Finns Party, the centre-right National Coalition Party and the left-leaning Social Democrats. Yle's latest assessment of political allegiances in September suggests that support has fallen even further, to 11.6 percent of the population.
The next elections in Finland won't be until the municipal elections scheduled for spring 2021. In the 2017 municipal elections under Sipilä's leadership, the Centre Party gained 17.5 percent of the vote.