Finland’s new young female prime minister breaks the mold

The candidate for the next prime minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, after the SDP's prime minister candidate vote in Helsinki, Finland, December 8, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 09 December 2019

Finland’s new young female prime minister breaks the mold

  • Sanna Marin will be Finland’s third female government leader
  • Women have been present in politics in the Nordic region for decades and today represent half of the party leaders in Sweden

COPENHAGEN: Finland’s next government is breaking the mold in multiple ways.
Sanna Marin, the 34-year-old transport minister, was tapped over the weekend by the ruling Social Democratic Party to be Finland’s new prime minister. When she takes the reins of the country, most likely on Tuesday, she will become the world’s youngest sitting head of government.
In another unusual development, Marin will head a coalition with four other parties that are all led by women — three of whom are in their early 30s. Her own biography also breaks the mold: Raised by a single mother, she has described feeling discriminated against in Finland when her mother was in a relationship with another woman.
Elina Penttinen, a lecturer in gender studies at the University of Helsinski, said the rise of so many women is “exceptional” not only by the standards of the wider world, where older men hold most power, but even by the standards of Finland, which regularly ranks as one of the best countries in the world for gender equality.
“Here it seems pretty amazing, too,” she said.
The Social Democrats emerged as the strongest party after Finland’s election in April. Antti Rinne, the incumbent prime minister whom Marin is replacing, stepped down last week amid political turmoil caused by a strike of postal workers. Rinne says he plans to continue as the Social Democrats’ leader until a party congress next summer.
Penttinen described Marin as a talented politician known for her leadership skills whose progressive program stresses combating climate change, protecting thecountry’s famous social protections like health care and reaching out to young people.
Finland, like much of the West, has seen a rise in right-wing populists and the nationalist Finns Party did well in April election, though centrist and left-wing parties won most votes and together could govern in the multi-party coalition.
“I hope it’s a sign of more change to come against populists, especially in the age of Trump and populism,” Penttinen said.
A tweet by a journalist for Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat with photos of the quintet drew attention online by visually underscoring the idea of rising female power in politics.
Marin will become the youngest-serving leader of a government in the world, beating out Ukraine’s 35-year-old prime minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk. She might not hold that title for long, however. Sebastian Kurz, the 33-year-old former Austrian chancellor who rose to that position when he was 31, won an election in September and is in talks to form a new governing coalition that would put him back in the job.
Marin joins a small group of female leaders who have sought to counteract the rise of populism. That group includes Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova, 46, a progressive whose election this year bucked the trend of populism and nationalism in Central Europe.
And like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — who is 39 — Marin is a new mother, having given birth to a daughter last year.
A lawmaker since 2015, Marin is the party’s vice chairwoman and was minister for transport and communications in the outgoing government.
Lawmakers are likely to approve the new government this week so Marin can represent Finland at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Finland holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the year.
Beside Marin, the coalition’s other party leaders are 32-year-old Katri Kulmuni of the Center Party; the Left Alliance’s Li Andersson, 32; Maria Ohisalo, the 34-year-old leader of the Greens; and the head of the Swedish People’s Party, Anna-Maja Henriksson, who at 55 is the oldest.
The coalition will have a comfortable majority of 117 seats in the 200-seat Eduskunta, or Parliament.
The Center Party announced Monday that Kulmuni will be the finance minister in the new government.
Marin will be Finland’s third female government leader. Women have been present in politics in the Nordic region for decades and today represent half of the party leaders in Sweden. Four of Denmark’s nine parties are headed by women.
Mette Frederiksen became Denmark’s prime minister in June, while Erna Solberg has been Norway’s head of government since 2013.
Iceland’s Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the first woman to be democratically elected as head of state by voters when she defeated three men for the presidency in 1980.


In a victory for Assad, UNSC approves aid to Syria’s rebel area through only one crossing

Updated 51 min 52 sec ago

In a victory for Assad, UNSC approves aid to Syria’s rebel area through only one crossing

  • Russia and China earlier vetoed two Security Council resolutions seeking to maintain the two crossings from Turkey
  • Russia had previously forced the Security Council to reduce the crossing points for aid deliveries from four to two

UNITED NATIONS: Russia scored a victory for its ally Syria on Saturday by forcing the Security Council to limit humanitarian aid deliveries to the country’s mainly rebel-held northwest to just one crossing point from Turkey, a move that Western nations say will cut a lifeline for 1.3 million people.
Russia argues that aid should be delivered from within the country across conflict lines, and says only one crossing point is needed.
UN officials and humanitarian groups argued unsuccessfully — along with the vast majority of the UN Security Council — that the two crossing points in operation until their mandate expired Friday were essential for getting help to millions of needy people in Syria’s northwest, especially with the first case of COVID-19 recently reported in the region.
The Security Council vote approving a single crossing from Turkey was 12-0, with Russia, China and the Dominican Republic abstaining.
The vote capped a week of high-stakes rivalry pitting Russia and China against the 13 other council members. An overwhelming majority voted twice to maintain the two crossings from Turkey, but Russia and China vetoed both resolutions — the 15th and 16th veto by Russia of a Syria resolution since the conflict began in 2011 and the ninth and 10th by China.
Germany and Belgium, which had sponsored the widely supported resolutions for two crossing points, finally had to back down to the threat of another Russian veto. The resolution they put forward Saturday authorized only a single crossing point from Turkey for a year.
In January, Russia also scored a victory for Syria, using its veto threat to force the Security Council to adopt a resolution reducing the number of crossing points for aid deliveries from four to two, from Turkey to the northwest. It also cut in half the yearlong mandate that had been in place since cross-border deliveries began in 2014 to six months.
Before adopting the resolution Saturday, the council rejected two amendments proposed by Russia, including one suggesting that US and European Union sanctions on Syria were impeding humanitarian aid. That contention was vehemently rejected by the Trump administration and the EU, which noted their sanctions include exemptions for humanitarian deliveries. It also rejected an amendment from China.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said after the vote that from the beginning Moscow had proposed one crossing — from Bab Al-Hawa to Idlib — and that Saturday’s resolution could have been adopted weeks ago. He said Russia abstained in the vote because negotiations over the resolution were marred by “clumsiness, disrespect.”
Polyansky accused Western nations on the council of “unprecedented heights” of hypocrisy, saying they were ready to jeopardize cross-border aid over the references to unilateral sanctions.
He said cross-border aid to Syria’s northwest doesn’t comply with international law because the UN has no presence in the region, which he described as being controlled “by international terrorists and fighters” that make it impossible to control and monitor who gets aid.
German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen retorted that while Russia talks about delivery of aid across conflict lines, “in practice it doesn’t” happen.
He said his side fought to maintain multiple crossing points for aid, including the Al-Yaroubiya crossing point from Iraq in the northeast that was closed in January, because that is what is needed for efficient delivery of aid to millions in need — and he asked Polyansky “this is clumsy?”
“This is what we tried to do over these past weeks, to get the optimum to the population,” Heusgen said.
US Ambassador Kelly Craft told the council: “Today’s outcome leaves us sickened and outraged at the loss of the Bab Al-Salaam and Al Yarubiyah border crossings.”
“Behind those locked gates are millions of women, children, and men who believed that the world had heard their pleas. Their health and welfare are now at great risk,” she said.
Still, Craft called the authorization of access through Bab Al-Hawa for 12 months “a victory” in light of Russia and China’s “willingness to use their veto to compel a dramatic reduction in humanitarian assistance.”
“This solemn victory must not end our struggle to address the mounting human needs in Syria — that fight is far from over,” Craft said.
Belgium and Germany said in a joint statement that 1.3 million people, including 800 000 displaced Syrians, live in the Aleppo area, including 500,000 children who received humanitarian aid through the Bab Al-Salam crossing — and now have that aid cut off.
“Today is yet another sad day. It is a sad day for this council, but mostly, it is a sad day for the Syrian people of that region.,” they said. “Both Yarubiyah and Bab Al-Salam were vital crossings to deliver, in the most efficient way possible, the humanitarian help, those people deserve.”