Finland's center-right government survives no-confidence vote over 2 right-wing ministers

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland’s center-right government that includes nationalist and anti-immigration lawmakers survived a no-confidence motion from three opposition parties on Friday over two ministers from the right-wing populist Finns Party at the center of a racism scandal that has rocked the Nordic country.

Lawmakers voted 106-65 in favor of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo.

Debate ahead of the vote focused on writings from 2008 and 2016 by Finance Minister Riikka Purra, leader of the Finns Party, and Economic Affairs Minister Wille Rydman, a member of the same party, which were deemed racist.

The opposition, particularly the Social Democratic Party, criticized Orpo’s government for not distancing itself enough from Purra’s and Rydman’s writings and not doing enough to tackle discrimination and racism in Finland, a country of 5.5 million that became NATO's 31st member in April.

The issue has crippled the government, which took office less than three months ago after Orpo’s conservative National Coalition Party won the most seats in April's general election, with the Finns Party the runner-up.

To avoid collapsing, the government last week agreed on policies and principles to combat intolerance and discrimination, but the opposition said the move came too late and lacked concrete measures.

The 19-member governing coalition also includes the smaller Christian Democrats and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland. Together, they hold 108 of the 200 seats in the parliament, or Eduskunta.

Following the emergence of the Finns Party into mainstream politics in the past decade, Finland’s political scene has become increasingly polarized, especially on issues such as immigration that the party wants to restrict.

At the insistence of the Finns Party, the government has taken a hard-line stance toward immigration, including tightening requirements for residence permits and citizenship. The party denies that it discriminates against foreigners — particularly those from outside the European Union.

Political analysts say Orpo’s Cabinet is Finland’s most conservative since World War II. It has faced major turbulence during its short time in office.

In July, Purra, who is also deputy prime minister, apologized for racist comments in a blog post 15 years ago. The comments resurfaced on social media after she assumed her Cabinet post in June.

The Finns selected Rydman in July to replace the previous economy minister, who resigned less than two weeks after taking office over alleged ties to far-right groups and Nazi remarks. Rydman has also come under fire over private text messages deemed racist that were sent to his former girlfriend seven years ago.


Olsen reported from Copenhagen, Denmark.