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Saarikko beats Kulmuni in Centre Party leadership vote

Annika Saarikko won in the first round on Saturday.

Keskustan puheenjohtajaksi valittu Annika Saarikko keskustan puoluekokouksessa Oulussa 5. syyskuuta 2020.
Annika Saarikko took the leadership of the Centre Party at a congress in Oulu on Saturday 5 September. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

The Centre Party got a new leader on Saturday, as Annika Saarikko defeated current chair Katri Kulmuni in a nail-biting vote at a party congress in Oulu.

Saarikko got 1,157 votes compared to Kulmuni's 773, winning in the first round of a much-anticipated election that was complicated by delays and coronavirus restrictions.

A total of 2,264 delegates voted in the election.

Petri Honkonen received 308 votes while Ilkka Tiainen got 22, and Jari Tasanen had the support of four delegates.

Saarikko currently serves as the Minister of Science and Culture, and has been an MP since 2011. In her victory speech she was conciliatory to the deposed chair.

"We need you, Katri, in the future as well." said Saarikko. "I need you, the Centre Party needs you and Finland needs you."

For her part, Kulmuni urged the party to "support the leader". There had been reports in the media of tense relations between the two campaigns.

The vote was originally scheduled for 1pm but was delayed until 4:30pm due to the number of delegates who wanted to address the conference.

Then the 2,264 delegates voted in a socially-distanced fashion at the congress hall in Oulu and at 15 other locations across the country as organisers limited numbers at the main event.

Kulmuni had been elected last year, but had a turbulent time at the top before she resigned as Finance Minister after it emerged she had used public funds for her communication training.

Earlier in the day Petteri Orpo was confirmed as leader of the National Coalition Party at a conference in Pori. There were no challengers to Orpo, who has led the NCP since 2016.

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