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Thursday October 17th, 2019 2:43PM

Finland's outgoing premier may bow out as party chair

By The Associated Press
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HELSINKI (AP) — Finland's outgoing prime minister, who abruptly tendered the resignation of his center-right government just weeks before the general election, said Saturday he won't seek to remain as chairman of his party next year if support continues to decline.

Juha Sipila, now heading a caretaker government in the Nordic country, told Finnish public broadcaster YLE that polls showing 14-percent support for the ruling Center Party meant "that I won't for sure be running as a (chairman) candidate with that kind of support" at the 2020 party congress.

Sipila had headed a three-party coalition government since 2015, deciding in a surprise move Friday to step down because of the Cabinet's failure to push through a major social and health reform package.

The plan, which has been worked on by previous governments since 2006, is meant to tackle an aging population, improve efficiency and reduce public spending by 3 billion euros ($3.4 billions) by 2029. It pledged to offer Finnish municipalities and regions larger freedom to choose between public and private service providers for citizens' social and health care.

The 57-year-old former business executive and entrepreneur has chaired the centrist Center Party — one of the big three main political parties in Finland — since 2012.

Finland will hold a parliamentary election on April 14. Sipila told YLE that the election result would "of course" largely determine his future as party chairman.

A March 7 poll commissioned by YLE showed the opposition Social Democratic Party was the most popular with 21.3 percent support among voters, followed by government member the National Coalition Party and the Center Party with 16.2 and 14.1 percent, respectively.

Finland, a Nordic country of 5.5 million people, will assume the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Main opposition leader Antti Rinne, head of the Social Democrats, has expressed concern that Friday's Cabinet resignation leaves Finland without a government for months and cuts short preparation for the EU presidency with a large agenda of key issues such as Brexit.

Sipila dismissed the concerns, telling YLE that Finland already has a full EU presidency program ready and that his caretaker government will "responsibly take care of all issues."

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