His decision was announced by party officials at a press conference in Helsinki early Wednesday afternoon, and writing on Facebook, Aalto said he had been suffering from depression for more than a year.
“Thanks to the people for support and encouragement. Thanks for the light. Thanks for the sympathy”.
“I need more time for my recovery. The Greens, in turn, need a president who can lead the party towards elections here and now” writes Aalto.
“The decision was not easy, but it is the only right one. Because of my health, I cannot serve my team. I became ill with depression a year ago. I tried everything but the disease progressed and fatigue took my ability to work” says the Jyväskylä politician.
Sick leave continues
Aalto, aged 34, has been on sick leave since the middle of September, after a troubled few months for the first-term MP.
While the Greens had been doing relatively well in opinion polls, their solid footing had become more unstable with Aalto as party leader; while his personal job approval ratings are noticeably lower than under the previous party leader Ville Niinistö.
In addition, Aalto was the subject of feverish tabloid reporting after being pictured in a Stockholm nightclub, shirtless, and apparently spanking another man’s backside.
In early September he was the subject of at least three critical editorials or columns in newspaper and TV news websites.
They cited cited a lack of popularity and awareness among the public, voter disapproval of his lifestyle, and being overshadowed by his predecessor for his party’s recent slump in the polls.
Greens already selected a temporary leader
While Aalto was on sick leave, the Greens already picked deputy chairperson Maria Ohisalo to be the party’s temporary leader.
The 32-year-old is a member of Helsinki City Council and poverty researcher with a PhD in sociology. She ran unsuccessfully in the last European Parliament elections.
She plans to run for election to the Finnish parliament on her party’s list next spring, and has been widely tipped to be Touko Aalto’s successor in an upcoming leadership contest.
The 43-member Green Alliance party council will now elect a new chair, at a special meeting on 3rd November in Helsinki.
Meanwhile, Aalto is expected to continue as a member of parliament, and will be on sick leave until the end of the year. He says he’ll be off social media during that time and not doing media interviews.
“Take care of your brother. Take care of our environment. As with nature, we also have the limits to what we can cope with” he writes.