HELSINKI The race to become the next Finnish prime minister heated up on Friday as Minister for Social Affairs and Health Paula Risikko said she would run to lead the ruling party when Jyrki Katainen steps down next month.
Risikko, 53, joins EU Minister Alexander Stubb and Economy Minister Jan Vapaavuori in the competition to lead the conservative National Coalition party after June.
"I want to renew Finland so that every Finn gets a chance to build their own future with optimism and safety," Risikko said in a statement. "Everyone has to be given a chance."
Whoever wins the leadership of the party in a vote scheduled for June 14 will also take over the prime minister's job from Katainen, who made a surprise announcement last month that he would step down to seek a senior European Union post.
Risikko trained as a nurse and went on to get a doctorate in health sciences.
She has kept a lower profile in the government than Stubb and Vapaavuori, but a survey showed she is quite popular with active Coalition party members, about a thousand of whom will vote at the party congress.
The survey by broadcaster MTV last month showed that Vapaavuori was the most popular choice with 25 percent support of active members, followed by Risikko with 15 percent and Stubb with 14 percent.
The National Coalition party became parliament's biggest group for the first time in 20 years in 2011 by moving in a more liberal direction.
(Reporting by Sakari Suoninen)