Lucky 13: Sanna Marin Named Prime Minister of Finland and Increases the Number of Women Heads of Government by One
By Maura Reilly
This past Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019, Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne announced his resignation from his post. Rinne faced criticism for wage cuts to postal workers and the resulting nationwide strikes that ensued; culminating with the Centre Party, a coalition partner with Rinne’s Social Democratic Party, formally expressing a loss of confidence in Rinne’s leadership. Following this weekend’s internal party vote, Sanna Marin is set to take over the position of Prime Minister and lead the five party governing coalition, which came to power following the April 2019 national election. Marin, at the age of 34, also becomes the youngest sitting Prime Minister in the world.
The five parties which form the center-left coalition government, and hold 117 of the 200 parliamentary seats, are now all led by women, four of whom are under the age of 35. In the April elections, the Social Democratic Party won the most seats of the coalition parties and lead the coalition, choosing the Prime Minister; with the four other coalition party leaders taking on other leading ministerial positions. These roles include: Finance Minister, held by Katri Kulmuni of the Centre Party; Education Minister, held by Li Andersson of the Left Alliance; Justice Minister, held by Anna-Maja Heriksson of the Swedish People’s Party; and Interior Minister, held by Maria Ohisalo of the Green Party.
Sanna Marin, entered the political field in 2012, when she was elected to the local council of her home city of Tampere; where she quickly rose to lead the local council. Marin was first elected to the Finnish parliament in 2015, at the age of 31. Marin’s promotion to Prime Minister is largely unexpected due to her prior ministerial roles, many of which are seen as unofficial stepping stones to the job, as well as her previous position as vice chair of the Social Democratic Party. The new Prime Minister is expected to focus on government led contract negotiations, which has the potential for widespread strikes similar to the ones which led to Antti Rinne’s resignation, as well as the ambitious environmental goal of making Finland carbon neutral by 2035.
Prime Minister Marin, is the third woman to hold the position in Finnish history; many Finnish political commentators see the rise of women into positions of political leadership as inevitable with the concentrated push to increase the percent of women in office starting in the 1980s. Following the 1983 parliamentary elections, women made up 30 percent of the members, this rose to 40 percent by 2007; women’s participation in parliament is currently at 47 percent, almost perfect gender parity. Finland currently ranks 8th in the world for gender parity in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s ranking of parliamentary gender parity as of October 2019; this rank could be subject to change based on other elections around the world in November and December. Some political scientists in Finland see Marin’s age as more interesting in her rise than her gender, due to Finland’s successes in increasing the number of women in government. Toumas Yla-Anttila, an associate professor at the University of Helsinki, has said on the matter, “her young age is more important than being a woman. She represents a new generation of politicians.”
Despite the seeming banality of another woman rising to a leadership position for Finnish commentators, Marin will join the small ranks of women heads of government, bringing the total up to 13 worldwide. Marin and her four women coalition partners help to normalize women’s power and leadership internationally, and hopefully bolster the fight for political gender parity around the world.
Maura is a RepresentWomen Fall 2019 Research Intern from the Washington, D.C. area. She graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland this past spring with an honors degree in Social Anthropology.