Helsinki: Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen tendered his resignation to President Tarja Halonen on Friday to end seven years in office and make way for the Nordic country`s second woman premier.
"The president has accepted the government`s resignation and asked it to continue on a caretaker basis until the new government has been formed and the ministers appointed," the president`s office said in a statement.
Vanhanen and his four-party, centre-right coalition government are thus expected to remain in office until Tuesday, when parliament is due to elect a new prime minister.
Halonen is then expected to relieve the old government of its duties and appoint a new one, almost certainly led by Mari Kiviniemi, the Nordic country`s 41-year-old public administration and local government minister, who was voted the new head of Vanhanen`s Centre Party at its congress last weekend.
Vanhanen, who has been prime minister since 2003, said last December he would step down as leader of the party at its next congress and was ready to end early his second term as head of government.
He cited a leg operation he is due to undergo in the autumn, but a drawn-out campaign financing scandal that has brewed around him and his party has sparked speculation about other possible reasons for the decision.
After his last European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday, Vanhanen told reporters he would reveal his reasons "after some years", according to Finland`s leading daily Helsingin Sanomat.
"But there is no drama linked to this. And everyone will surely understand," he said.
Following his resignation, 54-year-old Vanhanen is scheduled to have lunch with Halonen.
Kiviniemi meanwhile is considered a capable and knowledgeable politician and has been in parliament since 1995. She served as minister for foreign trade and development in 2005-2006 before taking up her current ministerial post in April 2007.
If appointed prime minister, as is widely anticipated, Kiviniemi would likely serve until the next parliamentary elections in April 2011, meaning Finland`s two top posts would be held by women for the second time in its history.
Finland`s first woman premier Anneli Jaeaetteenmaeki, also of the Centre Party, was in office for barely two months in 2003 before being replaced by Vanhanen following a political scandal.
As prime minister, Vanhanen has presented a calm figure, and his second government`s efforts to lead Finland through a recession sparked by the global economic downturn have received praise.
The same unfazed approach has been evident in Vanhanen`s responses to the media furore that has raged over his romantic liaisons since his divorce in 2005.
The style of his likely successor has been described as similar, but the government`s leading Centre Party hopes her scandal-free image will help renew the party ahead of next year`s elections and turn around a slide in ratings.
In his last speech at the party congress last weekend, Vanhanen said he was confident his exit and the introduction of "a new leadership style, new aims and thoughts" would "benefit the party."