Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen resigned Friday to allow the ruling Center Party’s new leader to succeed him as the head of the country’s coalition government.

Last week, Centrist politicians elected 41-year-old Mari Kiviniemi to replace Vanhanen, who announced in December that he would not run for re-election as party leader.

President Tarja Halonen, who accepted Vanhanen’s resignation, is expected to name Kiviniemi prime minister next week.

Vanhanen, who has headed two coalitions since 2003, initially cited scheduled leg surgery as the main reason for his resignation but Finnish media have speculated that alleged irregularities in party funding forced him to step down.

On Thursday, he told reporters he would not reveal the reasons for resignation for several years.

“Nothing dramatic is involved. I will talk about it when the time is right,” Vanhanen was quoted as saying to Finland’s leading daily Helsingin Sanomat.

In its Friday editorial, the paper described Vanhanen as a colorless but stable administrator whose working methods were praised by other members of the four-party Cabinet.

But a widespread party funding scandal has eroded the popularity of the government and the Center Party, which is now trailing in the polls behind its main government partner, the conservative National Coalition Party.

Kiviniemi, who has a degree in politics, has been a lawmaker since 1995. She was appointed minister of public administration and local government in 2005. She will be Finland’s second female prime minister. Centrist politician Anneli Jaatteenmaki briefly held the post before Vanhanen.

Kiviniemi said last week no major changes were expected in government policy before elections in April and said that the coalition would continue to focus on the economy and high unemployment.

Also, no major Cabinet reshuffles are expected except the appointment of Kiviniemi’s successor as minister of public administration and local government.

The Center Party, as the largest member in the four-party coalition, holds the prime minister’s chair. Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, head of the conservatives, has said his party is satisfied with Kiviniemi’s election and sees continuing good co-operation within the government.

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