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A major change occurred in Finnish domestic politics in January 1982, when the social democratic politician, Mauno Koivisto, was elected president. He was the first member of the SDP to be elevated to the country's highest post, and his election meant the full integration of social democrats into Finnish public life and an end to the postwar dominance of Kesk.
Koivisto had been a leading public figure since the late 1960s, when he had served as prime minister for two years. During the 1970s, as governor of the Bank of Finland and, for a short time, as minister of finance, he had won the public's respect for the accuracy of his economic forecasts. His personality and considerable media astuteness also won him a very considerable personal popularity across party lines. Born in 1923 in Turku, the son of a carpenter, he fought bravely during World War II. After the war he returned to his native city, and through years of part-time study, earned a doctorate in sociology in 1956. He was active within the moderate wing of the SDP, yet did not seek an elective office. He began his banking career by directing a large employees' savings bank in Helsinki.
Summoned again in 1979 to serve as prime minister, Koivisto retained the public's esteem and became a strong potential candidate for the presidential election scheduled for 1984. Seen by Kesk politicians as a threat to their party's hold on the presidency after Kekkonen's inevitable retirement, Koivisto was pressured to resign in the spring of 1981. He refused, telling Kekkonen that he would continue as prime minister until a lack of parliamentary support for his government was shown. Koivisto's survival despite Kekkonen's challenge was seen by some observers as the end of an era in which the president had dominated Finnish public life.
In the fall of 1981, failing health forced Kekkohen to resign the presidency, and Koivisto assumed the duties of the office until the presidential election set for January 1982, two years ahead of schedule. He won handily, taking 43 percent of the votes--from the high turnout of 87 percent--and 145 of the electors. With the support of some electors pledged to the SKDL candidate, he won, with 167 ballots, in the first vote of the electoral college. His popularity remained high during his first term, and he easily won reelection in 1988.
In his years in office, Koivisto has adhered to the Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line, renewing in 1983 the FCMA treaty, for example. In addition, he has supported the traditional policy of neutrality, has spoken often of the danger of the arms race, and has encouraged international trade. One innovation he introduced was allowing greater policy roles to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Eduskunta's Foreign Affairs Committee, and other institutions concerned with foreign policy.
On the domestic front, he has been more restrained than his predecessor. He has preferred to let day-to-day politics run its course, and he has tended to see the presidency as an office from which he could direct the nation's attention to long-term goals. At times, however, delphic presidential statements have confused the public about his intentions. On occasion, too, he has been harsh, berating the press for its irresponsible coverage of foreign policy issues, or striking down politicians he thought too meddlesome in international affairs. Overall, Koivisto's presidency has marked a coming of age for the Finnish polity, an emergence from the harsh tutelage of the Kekkonen years, and the increasing resemblance of Finnish political life to that of other successful Western democracies.
More about the Government and Politics of Finland.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress