Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) said on Tuesday that his decision to give up the post of Chairman of the Centre Party came after thorough consideration.
When he first made the announcement that he would not seek re-election to the post, Vanhanen said that the main reason was planned leg surgery next autumn.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Vanhanen said that there were other reasons for his decision, but he would not say which factors might have weighed the most.
The Centre Party will choose a new leader in June 2010. Vanhanen said that he felt that it would be appropriate for the new party leader to take on the post of Prime Minister as well.
However, he said that he would leave the final decision to the new party chair.
“I have reserved the possibility of staying on as Prime Minister if the party’s new chair does not immediately want to take on the task”, Vanhanen said.
Vanhanen rejected opposition claims that his resignation would weaken the government’s ability to function. He said that he believed that he would actually be able to focus more on the tasks of the Prime Minister better than if he were still a candidate for the leadership of his party.
“I will not have to travel around during the winter and spring as much as I would have to if I were a candidate for the leadership.”
Minister of the Environment Paula Lehtomäki appears to be the popular favourite as Vanhanen’s successor to the Centre Party leadership.
According to a poll commissioned by the Tampere newspaper Aamulehti, 34 per cent of Finns would like to see Lehtomäki in the post.
The poll gives Lehtomäki, who holds the post of deputy chair of the party, a solid lead over two other Centre Party figures - European Commissioner Olli Rehn and MEP Anneli Jäätteenmäki.
Lehtomäki has said that she will say in January if she will seek the party leadership. She says that she will think of how easy it would be to combine her duties at work with her family obligations to her two young children.