100th anniversary of Finland’s constitutional democracy
In June 1919, the Parliament adopted the Constitution Act of the Republic of Finland, confirmed by the Regent of Finland Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim on 17 July 1919. The Constitution Act, together with the Parliament Act, Election Act and Municipal Election Act adopted earlier, are still the key constituents of the Finnish democracy. These instruments have guided the work to build our society and Finland as a whole into a modern rule of law state. This year is the 100th anniversary of Finland’s constitutional democracy.
The year 1919 marks a major milestone on Finland’s path to independence and in becoming established as a democratic state. After the revolution in Russia, the First World War and the Civil War Finland was again united in the efforts to develop stable, democratic governance.
The first foundations for the Finnish constitution and government were laid during the centuries when Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden and the Russian Empire. Long historical traditions, universal and equal suffrage adopted in 1906, the unicameral Parliament elected in 1907, municipal decision-making, and the general rights of citizens laid down the groundwork for establishing Finland as a constitutional democracy in 1919.
The municipal elections in 1918 and parliamentary elections in spring 1919 had already constructed common decision-making procedures based on the citizens’ will. Together with the Constitution Act confirmed in summer 1919 these consolidated Finland’s position and made it possible for us to function as a sovereign state in the international community.
Power vested in the people
In the 1919 Constitution Act, the ultimate political power was given to the Parliament – representing the Finnish people. According to the Constitution Act, the powers of the State in Finland are vested in the people, who are represented by the Parliament.
The adoption of the Constitution Act ended the dispute between monarchism and republicanism[PP(1] , and Finland was established as a republic. In July 1919, the Parliament elected K. J. Ståhlberg, the founding father of Finland’s Constitution, as the first President of the Republic.
The Constitution Act also confirmed the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judiciary powers. The legislative powers are exercised by the Parliament, executive powers by the President of the Republic and Government, and judicial powers by independent courts of law. The principle of parliamentarism whereby the Government shall have the confidence of the Parliament is a key element of the Constitution Act. This was the principle adopted by the parliamentary reform of 1906.
Foundation of Finland’s democracy
In Finland the fundamental rights of citizens were protected by the Constitution Act. These include freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. The fundamental rights are part of our values even today, and in recent years they have become more important than ever before.
The 1919 Constitution Act remained in force until 2000, when the reformed Constitution entered into force. The new Constitution defines Finland even more strongly as a parliamentary democratic republic. The 2012 constitutional amendment further clarified the separation of powers, and strengthened the Parliament’s role in foreign and security policy issues as well. It also introduced citizens’ initiative as a new instrument for the citizens to have a say in policy-making.
The Constitution Act of Finland enacted one hundred years ago will be celebrated by various kinds of events during the summer and autumn. The year 1919 was truly remarkable in terms of building up Finland as an independent nation. The decisions made at that time are still visible and have an impact on the Finnish democratic way to act.