Thirty-four-year-old Social Democrat Sanna Marin took office in Finland on Tuesday as the world's youngest serving prime minister, heading a coalition with four other parties led by women, all but one of them under 35.
Ms Marin won the confidence of parliament with 99 votes in favour and 70 against.
She replaced Antti Rinne, who resigned last week after the Centre Party, one of the members of governing centre-left coalition, said it had lost confidence in him over his handling of a postal strike.
“I want to build a society in which every child can become anything and in which every human being can live and grow old with dignity,” Ms Marin wrote on Twitter.
The new cabinet takes over in the middle of labour unrest and a wave of strikes which have halted production at some of Finland’s largest companies for three days.
“It is my great pleasure to congratulate the new Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin. Finland has truly taken the gender issues to the next level: all coalition parties are now led by women!” tweeted new European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
Twelve ministers in the new cabinet are women and just seven are men. The head of the Centre Party, Katri Kulmuni (32) becomes finance minister, Green Party leader Maria Ohisalo (34) continues as interior minister and the Left Alliance’s chairwoman Li Andersson (32) remains education minister.
The Swedish People’s Party’s Anna-Maja Henriksson (55) remains justice minister, the only coalition leader to finish school before the 21st century.
Despite outward shows of harmony, divisions remain between the main coalition partners, Ms Marin’s Social Democrats and the Centre Party.
Ms Marin will struggle to defend her leftist views against the Centre Party, which wants action to boost Finnish employment to help pay for welfare expenditure.
Centre Party chairwoman Ms Kulmuni defended her decision to force out Mr Rinne, accusing him of having taken the employees’ side in recent labour market disputes when he should have remained neutral.
Before his resignation, Mr Rinne defended the publicly owned postal service’s employees in their labour dispute by saying their employment conditions would not be trampled while his government was in office.
“It became sort of a habit to flag in advance in favour of one side, in matters which should be dealt with cool impartiality,” Ms Kulmuni wrote in a long post on Facebook.
Ms Marin said recreating trust between the coalition partners was one of her first tasks.
“It demands discussion, a direct one,” she said.
“The past week has been extraordinary,” Ms Marin told reporters, according to Helsingin Sanomat, a leading Finnish newspaper. “Now is the time to look ahead. What is needed now is action beyond words to build trust from all government parties.”
Asked about her age after it was announced that she would be prime minister, Ms Marin reiterated what she has said numerous times: age doesn’t matter. “I have not actually ever thought about my age or my gender,” she said. “I think of the reasons I got into politics and those things for which we have won the trust of the electorate.”
She has already outlined her political ethos in a letter to fellow party members, asking for their support. In it she noted that she had benefited from the welfare state throughout her life, especially during “difficult times” and said that ensuring its strength was a priority for her. “I got to live a safe childhood, have an education and pursue my dreams,” she wrote. “Enabling it for everyone has driven me into politics.”
While Ms Marin’s new role has drawn attention globally, Anne Holli, a political science professor at the University of Helsinki, said it was unsurprising in Finland where women’s representation in parliament has been strong for decades. In the 1983 election, women held 30 per cent of the seats. By the 2007 election, they made up more than 40 per cent of politicians, and they make up 47 per cent in the parliamentary term that began this year. “We have actually a very broad base of women in politics and we have had a pretty equal situation in the political sphere for more than 35 years,” said Ms Holli. “I think one can kind of expect this sooner or later.”
Tuomas Yla-Anttila, an associate professor of political science at the University of Helsinki, said Ms Marin’s appointment as prime minister has symbolic value in the country but is also a reflection of strides in gender equality. “For a long time we had the situation in Finland where there were only men, now there are women, sometimes it goes the other way round,” he said, pointing to the all-female government leadership. He said Ms Marin’s youth likely helped her win the support of the troubled Social Democratic Party as it looks to reform and move away from the politics of Mr Rinne. In Finland, he added, her age was a more important political factor than her gender.
“The party surely wanted a younger prime minister,” he said. “Her young age is more important than being a woman. She represents a new generation of politicians.” Reuters/New York Times