3. Presidential elections 1919-1988

3.1. Previous election procedures

As a rule Presidents were elected indirectly 1919-1982. At first, three hundred (301 in the 1982 and 1988 elections) electors were chosen by popular ballot. Those electors then elected the President without being formally bound to any candidate. The legislation did not even mention Presidential candidates, on whom there were no legal provisions. The electors chose the President in 1925, 1931, 1937, 1940, 1943, 1950, 1956, 1962, 1968, 1978, 1982 and 1988. In 1987, a two-stage election procedure was enacted, but it was applied only in the 1988 election. In the first stage, voters chose directly between the officially designated candidates, but at the same selected 301 electors, who then at the second stage elected the President among the officially designated candidates in the event that none of them received more than half of the votes cast (at least 50% + one vote) in the popular ballot. In 1988 Mauno Koivisto failed to receive the sufficient number of votes for direct election, and was then re-elected by the electors. The current election procedure took effect in 1991, and was used for the first time in the 1994 election. The electors chosen in 1937 elected three Presidents: in 1937, 1940, and 1943. Under the exceptional circumstances prevailing in 1940 and 1943, it was felt that the popular ballot for the selection of electors could not be carried out.

3.2. Exceptional elections

Presidents were elected by exceptional procedures in 1919, 1940, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1973 and 1982. The final clauses of the new Constitution of Finland authorized Parliament to elect the first President, and in 1919 Parliament chose K.J. Stċhlberg to be the first President of Finland. After President Risto Ryti resigned in mid-term in 1944, a special law made Marshal Mannerheim President for a full six-year term. In 1946 President Mannerheim resigned in mid-term, and a special law authorized Parliament to elect a new President for the remainder of Mannerheim's term. Parliament then chose the then Prime Minister, J.K. Paasikivi, to complete the term of Mannerheim (until March 1, 1950). In 1973, a special law extended President Kekkonen's term by four years (until March 1, 1978).

The elections of 1940 and 1943 were exceptional because the electors chosen in 1937 performed the elections. The selection of a new President in 1940 because of President Kyösti Kallio's resignation was also premature, and was for the remainder of Kallio's term and not for the full six-year term. The elections in 1944, 1946 and 1982 were also occasioned by the resignation of an incumbent President.

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4. The Presidential duties

4.1. Supreme executive power

According to the Constitution, supreme executive power is entrusted to the President, but the general government of the state affairs rests with a Council of State composed of a Prime Minister and a sufficient number of ministers (presently not more than 18 ministers). This principle is reflected in other provisions in the Constitution affecting the duties and powers of the President in such areas as legislation, decrees, and appointment of public officials. Some Presidential duties and powers have been limited, reduced, or revoked by amendments of the constitutional legislation over the years. Since 1919 when the Constitution entered into force, the scope of general government has expanded significantly. As a result of this development the exercise of supreme executive power has in practice shifted towards the Council of State. The EU membership has furthered this tendency.

4.2. Dissolution of Parliament

Upon a reasoned initiative by the Prime Minister, and having consulted the Speaker of Parliament and the Parliamentary groups, the President may dissolve Parliament by calling premature election. The new Parliament is then elected for the full four-year term, and not merely to complete the term of the dissolved Parliament. Parliament decides itself when to terminate its session before the election. From 1919 to 1991, the Presidential power to dissolve was unqualified as the Presidents had the right to call premature elections whenever they deemed it expedient. Parliament has been dissolved, and premature elections held on seven occasions: 1924 (Stċhlberg); 1929 and 1930 (Relander); 1953 (Paasikivi); 1961, 1971 and 1975 (Kekkonen).

4.3. Appointment and resignation of ministers

The Prime Minister and the other ministers (Members of Government) comprise the Council of State, which is usually referred to as the 'Government'. The ministers must be Finnish citizens known for their honesty and skill, and must enjoy the confidence of Parliament. Prior to 1991 it was also required that ministers were native-born Finnish citizens.

After every Parliamentary election, or at any other point in time, when a Government has for other reasons resigned, the President conducts consultations on the composition of a new Government. At first the President consults the Speaker of Parliament and representatives of all Parliamentary groups. The President then calls on someone to form the new Government. This prospective Prime Minister conducts further consultations until parties that together have a sufficient Parliamentary majority agree to form a Government, on Government programme, and on the distribution of ministerial portfolios between them. The Parliamentary groups of the Government coalition then inform the President of their opinion on the composition of the Government. Thereafter, the President presides over the last Presidential session of the resigning Council of State. In that session the President at first relieves the members of the previous Government of their duties and then immediately appoints the ministers of the succeeding Government.

The President may at any time relieve the whole Government upon the Prime Ministers letter of resignation, and any minister upon his/her letter of resignation or upon the Prime Ministers initiative. Governments always resign after Parliamentary elections. Otherwise, Governments may resign because of a vote of no-confidence by Parliament, or because the will for continued cooperation between the coalition parties no longer exist. In Finland majority Governments have always been coalitions, because no single party has ever had an outright majority (over 100 Members out of the total 200) in Parliament.

The President has a constitutional obligation to relieve any Government or minister even without a letter of resignation whenever Parliament expresses that the Government or minister concerned no longer enjoys the confidence of Parliament.

4.4. International relations

The President determines Finland's relations with other sovereign states and decides upon her actions in international organizations and conferences. All international agreements that affect domestic legislation or cause public expenditure, or which otherwise call for Parliamentary advice and consent, must also be approved by Parliament. Now that Finland is a member of the European Union, Parliament also takes part in national decision-making process regarding Community affairs for which the Council of State (Government) is responsible.

In all foreign policy issues of major significance, either in principle or otherwise, the President determines Finland's line of action; and decides on policy initiatives; on instructions to Finnish diplomatic representatives; on the recognition of states; on establishing and severing diplomatic relations; on Finnish diplomatic missions; on joining or resigning from international organizations; on delegations to international conferences; and on the signing, ratification, and entry into force of international agreements. The President appoints or assigns the highest civil servants of the foreign service and the heads of Finnish diplomatic missions (ambassadors). The President receives the credentials and letters of recall of diplomatic representatives of other states and international organizations accredited to Finland.

4.5. Legislation

The President exercises legislative powers jointly with Parliament. Both may initiate the enactment of new legislation, including any constitutional law, or the amendment or repeal of any existing law. The President exercises this right of initiative by issuing legislative proposals (Government bills) for Parliamentary approval. In Parliament, each member can table legislative proposals (private initiative) alone or jointly with other members. The President may recall (cancel) any Government bill still under consideration in Parliament. In Parliament, Committee report(s) and three readings in plenary precede final enactment. The President must sign and approve for promulgation (ratification) all Parliamentary enactments before they become law. The President may not change the wording of such enactments, but may refer them to Parliamentary reconsideration, thus deferring their entry into force. If Parliament again passes the law in the next session (cf. para 7.2. below), it takes effect without the Presidents endorsement. Otherwise, the law lapses, i.e. does not enter into force. Before 1987, a Presidential veto meant that the final enactment of the law was deferred to the first Parliamentary session after the next Parliamentary election.

Government bills are drafted in the relevant ministry and submitted for Presidential decision by the relevant minister in a formal session of the Council of State presided by the President (Presidential session). Prior to the Presidential session, the Council of State (Government) in a plenary session presided by the Prime Minister approves the bill for submittal to the President. Recalls (cancellations) of bills and ratification of laws are processed in the same way. In legislative matters, the President is not bound by the opinion of the ministers, but as a rule follows the advice of the Council of State.

The President's Office does not deal with drafting and issuance of legislative proposals or recalls of bills, nor with ratification of laws, and is unable to answer queries concerning them. Enquiries should be directed to the relevant ministry or, if this is not known, to the Government information unit in the Prime Ministers Office. It is also worth your while to check the Government information in the WWW (http://www.vn.fi) first.

Ecclesiastical law

There is an exception to the above legislative procedure: The General Assembly of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Finland has the exclusive right to initiate legislation concerning that Church (ecclesiastical legislation). Neither the President, the Government nor Parliament may alter a legislative proposal decided upon by the Assembly. Such a proposal must be either passed or rejected as it stands. The matters of faith are decided directly by the Assembly, because the ecclesiastical legislation covers only the administrative framework of the Church. The Assembly lays down the administrative rules and regulates services of the Church.

4.6. Decrees

The President may issue statutory orders by decree, if the subject matter is not covered by legislation. Such decrees could relate to public administration, the implementation of laws, management of public assets, and the organization of the Council of State and the ministries. The President may also issue decrees, if a specific authorization thereto is expressly given in a law. No decree shall be contrary to or in conflict with any law. Decrees are drafted in the relevant ministry and submitted to Presidential decision by the relevant minister in a Presidential session of the Council of State.

The President's Office does not deal with drafting and issuance of decrees, and cannot answer queries concerning them. Enquiries should be directed to the relevant ministry or, if this is not known, to the Government information unit in the Prime Ministers Office. It is also worth your while to check the Government information at http://www.vn.fi first.

4.7. Powers of appointment

The President appoints and may discharge as necessary: the head of the President's Office and other Presidential advisors with direct access; the Chancellor of Justice and Assistant Chancellor of Justice; the Permanent Secretaries- and Under-Secretaries-of-State, and the heads of department at ministries; the ambassadors and other comparable civil servants at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs; the heads of the separate Government agencies; the Governor of the Bank of Finland and other members of the Board of Management; the provincial governors; and commissioned officers of the Armed Forces and the Frontier Guard.

The President also appoints the Archbishop and Bishops of the Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran and Orthodox Churches; the Presidents and Justices of the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court; and chancellors and professors at universities.

Appointments are processed in the relevant ministry and submitted to the President by the relevant minister in a Presidential session of the Council of State. There are two different procedures for Presidential decision-making: the select list and direct appointment procedures. In the select list procedure the President may freely choose between, but is bound with three candidates put forward by the relevant minister. In the direct appointment procedure only one candidate is submitted, but the President may appoint any consenting and qualified person to the post concerned.

The President's Office does not deal with appointments, and is unable to answer queries concerning them. Enquiries should be addressed to the relevant ministry or, if this is not known, to the Government information unit in the Prime Ministers Office. It is also worth your while to check the Government information at http://www.vn.fi first.

4.8. Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces

The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. However, in time of war the President may assign the Commander-in-Chiefship to another person. In 1939 - 1944, the Commander-in-Chiefship was assigned to Marshal Carl-Gustaf Mannerheim, who also served as President immediately thereafter (1944-1946). Such assignment is an exception to the rule that the Presidential duties cannot be delegated to anyone else, except in case of incapacity.

The decisions of the President in the capacity of the Commander-in-Chief are processed and drafted by the General Staff of the Armed Forces and submitted to the Presidential decision by the Commander of the Armed Forces in a private meeting, i.e. outside the Council of State. Appointments and assignments of colonels (naval captains/commodores) and lower-ranking commissioned officers are dealt with in this manner. Appointments and assignments of generals (admirals) are processed in the Ministry of Defence and submitted to the President by the Minister of Defence in a Presidential session of the Council of State. Appointments and assignments of other commissioned officers than generals (admirals) of the Frontier Guard are decided in a private meeting between the President and the Minister of the Interior outside the Council of State.

4.9. Powers of emergency

Under the 1930 Act on State of War, the President was empowered to declare and terminate a state of war (Finland was in a state of war as defined by this law from November 30, 1939, to September 26, 1947). During a state of war, the President could by decree institute: censorship of the media; control of communications; restrictions on the right of assembly, free movement, and residence; and a general duty to work. Under general emergency legislation, the President could by decree authorize the Council of State to regulate all economic activity during national emergencies other than war in order to safeguard the nation's food supply and the production of essential goods and services.

Recently, the emergency legislation was completely overhauled: On September 1, 1991, the Readiness Act (1080/91) and the State of Defence Act (1083/91) came into force.

The Readiness Act is designed to ensure the nations food supply and the production of essential goods and services; to maintain law and order and basic civil rights; and to safeguard the territorial integrity and independence during lesser national emergencies than war. During an eventual state of defence, the Readiness Act would only apply insofar it is not superseded by the provisions of the State of Defence Act. In a national emergency, the President may by decree authorize the Council of State to exercise emergency powers for up to one year at a time. The decree has to be approved by Parliament.

The State of Defence Act is designed to strengthen the national defence system in order to safeguard the country's independence and to maintain law and order, and to reinforce national security under the circumstances specified in Section 16 A of the Constitution (under national emergencies) by declaring a state of defence, if the powers allowed under the Readiness Act are insufficient for the purpose. The President institutes a state of defence by decree, initially for three months. If necessary, the state of defence may be extended for up to one year at a time. A state of defence may also be put into effect regionally. The relevant decree must be approved by Parliament.

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