Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini has survived a confidence vote brought by four opposition parties over his public interventions in debates about abortion. In the end 100 MPs voted to reject the no-confidence motion with 60 expresing their lack of confidence in Soini.
The vote exposed frayed relations between the government parties and some jockeying for position ahead of next spring's parliamentary election.
The Swedish People’s Party, Social Democrats, Left Alliance and the Green League, brought the confidence motion in Soini after he voiced his personal opinions on abortion several times in recent months. Soini had attended an anti-abortion rally in Canada during an official trip, and aired his anti-abortion views on his blog around abortion votes in Argentina and Ireland.
Soini, who joined the Catholic Church as a young man after he was raised in Finland's Lutheran tradition, had been criticised by opposition MPs for contradicting Finland's official foreign policy.
Finland's international human rights policy states that "Sexual and reproductive health and rights are an essential component of human rights and the agenda for gender equality and development, and their implementation is very important for everyone’s own body, sexuality and reproductive health."
The Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti investigated the matter at the request of private individuals, and found that the Foreign Minister’s actions were ‘problematic’ but not unlawful.
In the debate on the motion Soini stressed his freedom of religious convictions, while MPs from government parties were pressed to vote to support the minister.
Turbulence in government
Saara-Sofia Sirén of the National Coalition party said ahead of the vote that she would be unable to vote in Soini’s favour, while her party colleague Jaana Pelkonen was also reluctant to support him.
Soini’s party, Blue Reform, had said it would withdraw its support for the government if the vote was lost. The party is a Finns Party off-shoot with 18 MPs, more than enough to eliminate the government’s majority of eight, so the other government parties (the Centre and National Coalition) ordered their MPs to fall into line.
However the issue is not even clear-cut within Blue Reform, with the party’s Tampere MP Tiina Elovaara declaring on Facebook that she could not support Soini’s views on abortion, although she would not be in parliament to vote as she is out of the country.
The government’s fraught internal relations were on display on Twitter, where Centre MP Markku Pakkanen said that if the National Coalition party did not unanimously support the Foreign Minister, it was time to look again at plans to loosen employment protections.