President appoints new Kela chief after month-long delay

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö formally appointed long-standing public servant Elli Aaltonen as director general of the Finnish Social Insurance Institution Kela on Friday. Following a tied vote, Aaltonen clinched the job when voting delegates cast lots to decide the winner.

Elli Aaltonen
Image: Pyry Sarkiola / Yle

Elli Aaltonen’s elevation to lead the organisation charged with handing out billions of euros in benefits may have come as surprise to many.

Aaltonen has a background of lengthy service in regional administration, was most recently head of the eastern Finland Regional Administrative Agency, and is not a bona fide member of the Centre Party. However she describes herself as "an adherent of centrism".

Aaltonen was competing for the position as the head of Kela against Outi Anttila, the current director general of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

During the early October vote to select a replacement for outgoing Kela chief Liisa Hyysälä, Aaltonen had the support of delegates from the Centre Party, Social Democratic Party and the Greens. Anttila’s backers, on the other hand, represented the National Coalition and Finns parties. When the vote resulted in a 6-6 deadlock, delegates decided the contest by lottery.

Month-long delay to confirm appointee

Although she is not a card-carrying party member, 62 year-old Aaltonen has worked closely with the Centre Party. She served on Centre PM Matti Vanhanen’s SATA committee in the late 2000s, which aimed at a comprehensive overhaul of the benefits system. In 2015 she was also appointed to Juha Sipilä’s government working group reviewing wellbeing and social benefits.

It's not yet clear why it took one month for Aaltonen's selection to be confirmed by President Sauli Niinistö. The Minister of Social Affairs and Health (recently-appointed Pirkko Manttila) was responsible for presenting the appointment proposal to the president.

The Kela council took nearly two weeks to communicate its choice to the ministry after the October 4 vote. However the ministry did not present the appointee to the President for confirmation in the ensuing weeks on October 14, 21 or 28.

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