The centre-right government's flagship project to implement sweeping reforms to Finland's social and health care services – known colloquially as sote – was dealt another blow on Friday, when a parliamentary committee charged with assessing the draft legislation's compliance with constitutional law requested more time to deliberate before releasing its report.
This casts doubt on the cabinet's plans to hold elections in October to install a new network of larger regional bodies to take over administration of the reformed services.
Petteri Orpo, chair of the National Coalition Party (NCP) and Finance Minister, admits that time constraints will probably scupper the government's plans to hold the elections in just five months. He says the parliamentary committee's call for more time and recent comments from the appointed Elections Director and the Chancellor of Justice have all contributed to this likelihood.
He also had this to say about the sote reform package in general:
"If our parliamentary group reaches the conclusion that it doesn't meet the goals that we have set for the reform, in other words, the renewal of social and health care services, the resulting potential for savings, better services, and freedom of choice… If the equation doesn't work, then we don't have any reason to support it," he said in a Saturday morning interview on Yle's Ykkösaamu programme.
Close vote expected in Parliament
Friday also brought news that NCP MP Susanna Koski was adding her name to the list of NCP MPs that will vote against the reform.
Defections like this mean the slim majority the three-party coalition government enjoys in Parliament is looking increasingly endangered, but Orpo denies that his party is abandoning ship.
"We've got two or three so-called 'sote' rebels that have made their stance very clear to the public," he continued.
"In the case of Susanna Koski, I would have hoped that she could have waited for Parliament to hear the final package first. It is clear that some changes will be necessary," Orpo said.
Defeat could bring down the government
Orpo said that he was of the opinion that if the reform doesn't make it across the finish line, the coalition should evaluate whether it should continue in power.
"I think this is a big issue, so yes, it would lead to serious consideration."
Touko Aalto, chair of Finland's the second-largest opposition party, the Greens, said pretty much the same thing on Saturday from a meeting of his party's congress.
"Nothing less or more than the question of whether our next elections will be parliamentary or regional is at stake," he said.
Aalto said his Green Party has been disappointed with how Parliament has handled the social and health care reform. He accused Prime Minister Juha Sipilä of pressuring the parliamentary committees into rushed decisions.
"The Prime Minister has tried to dictate the deliberation timetable for the largest reform ever considered in the Finnish Parliament – a schedule that is obviously far too tight," he said.
Edit: Story updated on 28 May at 3.19pm to indicate that Petteri Orpo is Finance Minister, and not acting Finance Minister as previously stated.