Timo Soini faces parliament showdown over abortion stance

The vote could be close to censure the veteran politician, but even MPs from his own government coalition say they can't support him after abortion comments.

File picture of Foreign Minister Timo Soini (Blue) / Credit: Timo Soini

Foreign Minister Timo Soini (Blue) is facing a no-confidence vote in parliament this afternoon.

The motion has been brought by opposition parties after numerous controversial comments that Soini has made about abortion. Soini says his views are private, but this week the Chancellor of Justice issued a report which says Soini it’s “problematic” when Soini is on official business and attends any anti-abortion events, as he did in Canada earlier this year.

The report concluded that when Soini is traveling for work, even in his spare time, he should stick to the official policies of the Finnish government to avoid any confusion.

Abortion is legal in Finland, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put women’s and girl’s rights, including reproductive and sexual health rights, as a centerpiece of its foreign policy.

Support for Soini

The Blue Reform’s PR efforts in support of Soini have been in full swing this week.

They’ve mostly stuck to the line that Soini is allowed to have free speech and speak about his personal views on adoption. Blue MPs have also said this is a freedom of religion issue as Soini is a devout Roman Catholic.

Other lines of defence for the embattled Foreign Minister are more creative.

The party’s official Twitter account tried to draw comparisons with the debate on NATO membership, asking why previous government ministers who had spoken in favour of Finland joining NATO were not sanctioned for speaking out against the country’s official stance.

Blue Reform tweet in defence of Timo Soini / Credit: @SiniTulevaisuus Twitter

Meanwhile Blue Reform chairman Sampo Terho wrote in support of the Foreign Minister.

“The motion of censure by the Green Left (sic) is absurd and immoral. Its purpose is to create a precedent to restrict people’s right to take public positions” on various subjects, he says.

Criticism of Soini

Criticism of Timo Soini’s actions and words have come mainly from female opposition MPs, and only increased after a ham-fisted speach to parliament where Soini pointedly didn’t apologise for his actions.

“Timo Soini did not apologize” writes Left Alliance leader Li Andersson.

“He has continued to be anti-abortion despite the internal government debates and has questioned the credibility of Finnish foreign policy with regard to women’s rights” she says.

Parliament vote outcome?

In all likelihood, Soini will survive the vote in parliament this afternoon. Although his party has warned it could mean the downfall of the government if the foreign minister loses his job.

However, while some female MPs from the government coalition have gone on the record to say they just have to support Soini in the interests of government unity, others are more conflicted.

NCP member of parliament Saara-Sofia Sirén wrote on Twitter that she has decided she can’t support Soini in today’s vote.

“Soini’s actions have been contrary to the Finnish and government policies. [Thursday] in the chamber he says that he has not acted wrong, does not regret […] this confirms my view that I cannot vote in favour of the trust in Soin” writes the MP.

The majority of the MPs from the National Coalition Party, Centre Party and the Blue Reform party will probably vote with Soini. He can almost certainly count on the support of the Christian Democrats as well and is very likely to survive the no confidence vote. Many MPs from his previous party The Finns Party could vote against him just because of lingering animosities – “he is a traitor” Finns Party youth group leader Samuli Vuotila wrote on Twitter this morning.

But one possible outcome being shared by pundits on social media is that Soini might survive the no confidence vote today, and yet still be moved to a less high profile ministerial portfolio in a cabinet re-shuffle.

This would help Prime Minister Juha Sipilä keep the government coalition intact, freshen his team ahead of next spring’s general election – important if Soini decides not to run again for parliament – but also be a concession to the widespread political and public criticism that Soini has received.

The vote takes place on Friday afternoon. We will update the result here, and on our social media channels.