Divided Government in Comparative Perspective

By Robert Elgie | Go to book overview

5 Divided Government in Finland: From a Semi-Presidential to a Parliamentary Democracy

Heikki Paloheimo

In cross-national comparisons the Finnish political system has been classified as one of the semi-presidential systems where executive power is divided between an elected president and a government responsible to the parliament (Duverger, 1980). According to the old Finnish constitution that was in force from 1919 to 2000 (Act 94/1919 with later amendments) the president appointed governments, presented government bills to parliament, ratified laws accepted in the parliament, issued decrees, led Finnish foreign policy, appointed judges of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and Courts of Appeal, as well as senior civil servants, was the head of the armed forces, could grant pardons, had the right to dissolve the parliament and to convene extraordinary sessions of the parliament. Thus, these duties included legislative, executive, and judicial powers.

However, the constitution did not accurately reflect the real division of power between the president and the government. It is typical of many parliamentary democratic systems that presidents are armed with constitutional powers they do not actively use. In Finland different presidents have used their constitutional prerogatives in highly different ways. The Finnish semi-presidential regime has been, as Dag Anckar has put it, for the presidents like a 'buffet table' (1999). It has been up to the president to choose which constitutional powers they want to pick up from the constitutional buffet table. Some presidents have been quite moderate in using their powers, leaving much room for the parliamentary side of the executive body. Others have used their powers more actively. President Urho Kekkonen (1956-81) was, as Anckar puts it, a gourmand. But none of the Finnish presidents have been really ascetic, not even the presidents who have had a highly parliamentary ethos.

The division of power between president and government established a system of divided government in Finland. However, divided government was

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Divided Government in Comparative Perspective
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Comparative Politics ii
  • Divided Government in Comparative Perspective iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Figures ix
  • List of Tables x
  • Contributors xi
  • 1: What is Divided Government? 1
  • 2: Divided Government in the United States 21
  • 3: Squaring Off 40
  • 4: Divided Government in Mexico's Presidentialist Regime 63
  • 5: Divided Government in Finland 86
  • 6: 'Cohabitation' 106
  • 7: Divided Government in Poland 127
  • 8: Divided Governance 146
  • 9: Divided Government in Germany 167
  • 10: Divided Government in Ireland 182
  • 11: Divided Government in Comparative Perspective 209
  • Bibliography 226
  • Index 239
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