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Gov't parties row over alleged pressure tactics after minister's confidence vote

Three female MPs abstained from a confidence vote on the foreign minister Friday, saying they felt pressured to support Timo Soini.

Kokoomuksen kansanedustajat Saara-Sofia Sirén ja Jaana Pelkonen kertoivat äänestyksen jälkeen ilmoittautuneensa tarkoituksella poissaoleviksi, vaikka olivat läsnä salissa.
NCP MPs Saara-Sofia Sirén and Jaana Pelkonen speak with the press on Friday. Image: Yle Uutiset

Prime Minister and Centre Party chair Juha Sipilä responded to a heated exchange between the government coalition's Centre Party and the National Coalition Party on Saturday, describing the accusations that followed Friday's confidence vote on Foreign Minister Timo Soini as "repulsive".

In a veiled reference to the NCP, he said that "We [the Centre Party] have always defended decisions that we have found difficult. We are team players."

The NCP line broke on Friday, with three female NCP MPs abstaining from the vote. NCP parliamentary group chair Kalle Jokinen later released a statement accusing the Centre Party and Blue Reform coalition partners of pressuring the NCP MPs into voting in support of the foreign minister.

The NCP parliamentary group leader's statement also suggested that the prime minister would have "trivialised the moral fibre of the NCP's parliamentary members".

"I am a peaceful man, but even I have my limits, and yesterday crossed the line," Sipilä said on Saturday in response to this second accusation.

NCP MPs Jaana Pelkonen and Saara-Sofia Sirén and former minister Leena Toivokka abstained from Friday's vote rather than vote in support of Soini.

Sirén told the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat on Friday that "the prime minister made it clear that this [vote] shouldn't be hard for anyone to make. To me, this trivialised the angst that our group had experienced with this."

Controversial anti-abortion activity

Friday's confidence vote stemmed from the anti-abortion activities of Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini. Four opposition parties had demanded the confidence motion after Soini had repeatedly voiced his personal opinions on abortion, which ran counter to Finland's official policy on reproductive rights.

Although the vote was supposed to be limited to a reckoning of MP confidence in Soini's ability to represent Finland as foreign minister, Soini's Blue Reform political party threatened to bring down the entire government if Soini was dismissed from his position.

In the Ilta-Sanomat article on the vote, NCP chair Petteri Orpo accused the Centre Party of pressuring the NCP MPs into voting in support of Soini, expressing his support for the women who had abstained.

"Ever since the vote became tied to other things, there has been a clear feeling of pressure in the air, so I understand their decision. I respect their strong personal values that steered them towards this kind of voting behaviour," he said.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä told the tabloid on Friday that the NCP's accusations of the Centre Party putting pressure on MPs were unfounded. On Saturday, he claimed that it was in fact his political party that was the victim.

"The Centre Party was backed into a corner we don't belong in. This is the part of politics that I will never understand," he told Yle on Saturday.

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