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Complaint sent to Parliamentary Ombudsman over minister voting on own confidence motion

The Parliamentary Ombudsman received a complaint about Foreign Minister Timo Soini voting in his own confidence vote in Parliament last week.

Ulkoministeri Timo Soini.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini survived a no-confidence motion by 100 votes to 60 last Friday. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

The office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman has confirmed that it received a complaint over Foreign Minister Timo Soini’s participation in his own confidence vote in Parliament last Friday, according to online news site Uusi Suomi.

On Friday the embattled foreign minister survived a no-confidence vote over his outspoken anti-abortion views by 100 votes to 60.

The motion was backed by the Social Democratic Party, the largest opposition party currently enjoying the country’s highest voter approval rating, as well as the Left Alliance, the Greens and the Swedish People’s Party.

Uusi Suomi reported that the complaint was filed after animated public debate on Soini’s vote in favour of himself. The news site spoke to legal experts Veli-Pekka Viljanen and Tuomas Ojanen who said that there is an established tradition of ministers voting on their own confidence motions.

"Section 32 of the constitution does not prevent ministers who are also MPs from participating in a plenary session vote on the confidence enjoyed by a minister or the cabinet, and this also includes confidence votes relating to minister-lawmakers themselves," Ojanen told Uusi Suomi.

Questions about minister's vote on Twitter

However international law and human rights professor Martin Scheinin has questioned why Soini was allowed to vote on his own confidence motion.

Commenting using the Twitter handle “perustuslakitweet” or “constitution tweet” in English on Tuesday afternoon, Scheinin said that the Parliamentary Speaker, the National Coalition Party’s Paula Risikko, should have blocked Soini from participating in the vote. Scheinin was responding to a question posed by another Twitter user.

Scheinin and constitutional law scholar Juha Lavapuro maintain the Twitter account that is devoted to constitutional law matters.

The professor cited the Finnish Constitution, which says that MPs should be disqualified from participating in preparation and decision-making on matters that concern them personally. He stressed that the key word in this instance is "personally".

He went on to point out that the minister can engage in debate in a plenary session, but should not vote. Scheinin clarified that a personal matter is not one that involves an assessment of the work of the cabinet or minister – in such a case, the minister can cast a vote.

He concluded his linked tweets by saying, “According to the Prime Minister and Soini, the current case involved personal conviction and did not involve assessment of the policies of the government or its minister.

“In this case, Soini should not have been allowed to vote on his own confidence motion,” Scheinin concluded.

According to Uusi Suomi, Transport Minister Anne Berner had also cast a vote for herself when she faced a confidence vote over high-risk investments by the state-owned airports operator Finavia.

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