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Now what? Brief answers to 8 questions about gov't resignation

The prime minister tendered his government's resignation to the president on Friday, and questions abound as to what that means for Finland moving forward.

Pääministeri Juha Sipilä kertoo erostaan. ostaatiedotustilaisuudessa Kesärannassa Helsingissä 8. maaliskuuta
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä on 8 March, shortly after his resignation. Image: Seppo Samuli / Lehtikuva

Both the government and 'sote', the long-planned social and health care reform ran aground in Finland on Friday, and many people are concerned about what this means moving forward. The public broadcaster Yle answered eight common questions it has been fielding from the public after the news broke.

1. Who's running the country now?

A caretaker government. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and his government have been asked by the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to continue in office in a caretaker capacity until the next government takes office. This means the same ministers will continue in their work, but their powers will be reduced. The caretaker government will handle the day-to-day matters of running the state, but will be unable to start any new projects, for example, due to its diminished mandate. Sipilä's Centre Party-National Coalition Party-Blue Reform coalition would have assumed this role anyway after the general elections on 14 April, until the new government is formed.

2. How will this affect the upcoming elections?

Not at all. The elections will take place as scheduled on 14 April. The processing of candidate applications has already begun and the electoral authorities have begun their preparations. Because there are only five weeks left until the elections, there is no reason to appoint a new government. Read our really simple guide to the 2019 parliamentary elections for more information.

3. How will the failure of the 'sote' project affect social and health care services?

Not at all. The fact that the government was unable to see its reform over the finish line will not affect services in any way. Everything will continue as it has been in the past, including in hospital districts where cooperation models and trials have been started.

4. And what was 'sote' again?

A project to reform Finland's social and health care system. Finnish politicians have been talking about 'so-te' (a name taken from the Finnish words for social and health) for so long that its meaning has become obscure. Sote refers to the Finnish government's push to reorganize and streamline social and health care services under a new tier of regional government. Sipilä's is the third consecutive government to have attempted the sweeping overhaul unsuccessfully, although his coalition made considerably more progress than his predecessors. Read our 'sote' explainer from 2017 to learn more.

5. Will all the 'sote' reform work now go down the drain?

No, the next government will likely pick up where the Sipilä coalition left off, using many elements of the plan and perhaps discarding other controversial components like the 'freedom of choice' option that would have opened the public services up to more private company competition.

6. How much has preparation of the sote bill cost?

Hundreds of millions of euros, according to most estimates. The total cost of the extensive bill's preparation has been difficult to calculate, as the groundwork has extended to many sectors and regions.

7. Is there a chance the next government will cancel the 'sote' reform altogether?

Not likely. The prevailing notion in Finland is that the current municipally-run system of social and health care is too expensive in light of an aging population. A new model must be introduced to consolidate services and make them more cost-efficient, the thinking goes. As pundit Sini Korpinen said in Yle News's All Points North podcast on Friday, it is likely that we have not seen the last of 'sote'.

8. Was this government resignation an election stunt?

Possibly. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä emphasized in his Friday press conference that the dissolution of his government was a "personal decision". Yle's political analyst Matti Koivisto says that polling was suggesting dismal election results for Sipilä's Centre party, so the premier had nothing to lose. The reaction of many opposition party representatives indicates that they believe the move was a stunt, inspired by pre-election panic.

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