There is an ancient and flourishing tradition of local self-government extending back to the 14th century. The present law on local government was enacted in 1976. There are 6 provinces (lääni), each headed by a governor appointed by the president. One of them, Ahvenanmaa (Åland Islands), has long enjoyed special status, including its own elected provincial council, and a statute effective 1 January 1952 enlarged the scope of its autonomy. The other provinces are directly responsible to the central government.
Below the provincial level, the local government units in 2003 included over 448 municipalities. Each local government unit is self-governing and has a popularly chosen council. Local elections are held every four years; being partisan in nature, they are regarded as political barometers. The councilors are unsalaried. Local administration is carried out under the supervision of council committees, but professional, full-time managers usually run day-to-day affairs. The functions of local government include education, social welfare, utilities, and collection of local taxes.