Finnish government faces tight vote of confidence

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 07, 2014 4:46 AM

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Alexander Stubb's center-right Finnish coalition government faces a knife-edge vote of no-confidence in parliament at around 6 a.m. ET on Friday over economic woes exacerbated by a euro zone slowdown and the crisis over Ukraine.

No Finnish government has been toppled by a confidence vote since 1958, but the defection of two of the original six coalition parties this year has left Stubb controlling only 102 of the 200 seats in parliament, and one of those is the speaker, who cannot vote. Eight parliamentarians are likely to be absent from the vote.

Stubb put up a relaxed front as he hosted British and Nordic counterparts at a summit in Espoo, saying he expected the coalition to see out its term until an election in April.

"I have a minor problem today ... we have a vote of confidence in the parliament, and we're sitting at 97 to 94, so I might need some extra forces," he joked to his fellow leaders. "If you can come and press the button at our parliament, that would be very useful."

Opposition parties accuse the government of failing to protect jobs in an economy set to contract for the third consecutive year.

If the government loses the vote, it will still be up to the prime minister and president to see whether there were any alternatives before calling an election.

"It is more likely the government will survive the vote, but it could go either way," said political analyst Erkka Railo from the University of Turku.

"I don't believe that the opposition truly want to push the government over right now, as they would in that case have to take moral responsibility for the mess."

Finland for decades had coalition governments with strong majorities. But the rise of the populist party The Finns, formerly known as True Finns, upset the balance in 2011.

The resulting quarrelsome six-party government has found it hard to agree on spending cuts and economic reforms.

Its initial prime minister, Jyrki Katainen, quit in June to seek a seat in the EU Commission. Two small parties have also left, and only six of the 19 original ministers in the government still hold seats in the cabinet after several resignations and internal battles.

Since Stubb took the helm in June, the economic picture has only worsened, not helped by EU sanctions against Finland's neighbor and key trading partner Russia, which prompted Russian counter-measures. Last month, Standard & Poor's cut Finland's credit ratings.

The opposition Center party leads in opinion polls, and Railo said it would have more to gain by waiting for the scheduled election in April.

The parliamentary session is due to start at 6 a.m. ET and a vote is likely to take place shortly afterwards.

(Reporting By Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Kevin Liffey)