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Minister survives confidence vote after far-right scandal

Three opposition parties called for the vote over the Finns Party minister's links to far-right groups and past statements.

Vilhelm Junnila sitting in Parliament, wearing a tie with raccoons.
Finland's new economic affairs minister, Vilhelm Junnila, in parliament on Wednesday. Image: Eeva-Maria Brotherus / Lehtikuva
Yle News

Finland's new economic affairs minister and member of the nationalist Finns Party, Vilhelm Junnila, survived a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday.

MPs votes on the measure fell 95-86 with three abstentions and 15 absences.

The confidence vote was called by three opposition parties, the Left Alliance, Green and Social Democratic parties, due to Junnila's previous controversial statements and links to far-right groups.

Seven Swedish People's Party MPs voted against Junnila, with the other three abstaining. Three National Coalition MPs were absent for the vote, but the other government party MPs voted their confidence in the controversial politician.

Junnila has joked about his election number (88) referencing 'Heil Hitler', campaigned at an election under the "gas" slogan and spoken at at least one event organised by a far-right group.

The recently-appointed minister apologised last week for his comments and actions, following two days of media controversy about the matter.

MPs also voted on the government programme, with 106 voting to support it, 78 voting against, and one abstention. 15 legislators were away for that vote.

FP wants to "look to the future"

The vote could easily have gone the other way, if all the opposition MPs had been present and voted against Junnila. In that case the vote would have been 98-95.

If the three absent National Coalition MPs had voted in favour of Junnila, the vote would have been a tie and decided by drawing lots.

There is a good chance that the Swedish People's Party had counted carefully how many opposition MPs were present and felt able to vote against Junnila. They may have voted differently, had there been fewer absences.

Finns Party parliamentary group chair Jani Mäkelä said after the vote that he was not drawing any conclusions about co-operation with the Swedish People's Party.

"Maybe we can manage with them, let's look to the future," said Mäkelä.

Not a single SPP representative voted to support Junnila. Mäkelä said that he hoped to focus on more relevant matters in future.

"If the Finns Party has expressed a lack of confidence in ministers while we were in the opposition, it has always been based on the minister's actions in post or their neglect of them," said Mäkelä.

Orpo pledges government unity

Despite seven MPs from the Swedish People Party voting against Junnila, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) emphasised that in his view, the government was still unified.

"The parties in the government are united by the issues that are important for Finland. Of course, there are some things on which we are very different," Orpo said.

He said that there was some disagreement, but it did not threaten the coalition.

"The marriage of convenience in government is based on big issues. On other issues, we need to find solutions and a way forward."

Every minister and representative in the government must think about what they can do to ensure that the government is able to function and that reforms are achieved, Orpo said.

"We owe it to the Finnish voters," the Prime Minister concluded.

Henriksson explains opposition

Swedish People's Party chair Anna-Maja Henriksson told reporters that one of her party's main tenets is upholding human rights.

"In a situation where someone has a social media presence where the Nazi theme has been joked about, you can't just forget about it. I respect that and it is very good that Vilhelm Junnila has apologised for his actions, it was thoughtless. However, it was too much for our party values, that is why we voted the way we did," Henriksson said.

According to Henriksson, Prime Minister Orpo understood why the SPP chose to vote this way.

"We have also had a good discussion with Riikka Purra, chair of the Finns Party, and together we will go forward," Henriksson continued.

Henriksson noted that there was also the possibility for Junnila to step down or be replaced by another Finns Party politician.

"Parliament has put its trust in the minister and the government is acting in accordance with the will of Parliament," Henriksson added.

Henriksson did not answer directly when asked whether she would have asked Finns Party chair Purra to replace Junnila as minister.

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Article updated at 14:30 to add Orpo and Henriksson's comments.

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