Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä resigned Friday morning, one month ahead of an election.
“The social welfare and health care reform was one of our government’s most important objectives,” Sipilä said at a press briefing. “The snapshot of the situation that I got from the parliament obliged me to examine if there was a possibility of continuing the reform process. There wasn’t.”
“My conclusion was that my government had to hand in our note of resignation,” he added. “I take my responsibility.”
Finland has a decentralized system of health and social welfare programs, where much of the administration is left to local municipalities. This arrangement has led to widespread geographic variation when it comes to quality and access to health care services.
The reform was meant to address these inequalities and reduce the growing cost of the country’s health care system, which has come under increasing stress from an ageing population. It included centralization of the administration at a regional level.
Last month, Sipilä spoke to POLITICO about the “very difficult” social and health care changes, calling them the country’s “biggest reform since the Second World War.”
“The publicity and discussion and debate during the process we have had in Finland, it has been painful, and it shows that people are afraid of change,” he said.
There has been general agreement among political parties of the need to reform the system. However, the parties differ when it comes to the finer details, which has led to the current impasse.
Sipilä’s Center Party had agreed to some reforms pushed for by the center-right National Coalition Party that would allow for more privatization of health care services, but this move was fiercely opposed by the left-leaning and Green parties, Laura Kalliomaa-Puha, a professor of social welfare law at Tampere University, said.
“It has been politically extremely difficult,” Kalliomaa-Puha said.
“Prime Minister Sipilä will request to resign because the health care reform cannot be accomplished during this government term,” Antti Kaikkonen, the head of Sipilä’s Center Party’s parliamentary group wrote on Twitter. He added: “If anyone asks what political responsibility means, then I would say this is an example of that.”
According to local media, President Sauli Niinistö asked Sipilä to remain in office as a caretaker PM until an April 14 parliamentary election.
This article has been updated.