November 7, 2014 / 9:49 AM / 3 years ago

Finnish coalition government narrowly survives confidence vote

Finland's Prime Minister Alexander Stubb listens during a news conference in Tallinn June 30, 2014.Ints Kalnins

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's left-right coalition government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote on Friday brought on by the country's economic woes, which have been exacerbated by a slowdown in the euro zone and by the crisis in Ukraine.

The four-party government under Alexander Stubb won parliament's backing by 97 votes to 94.

Opposition parties accused the government of failing to boost growth and protect jobs in an economy set to contract for the third straight year.

"I'm sort of sitting here a bit serenely and thinking: Where the hell is my beer?" Stubb joked as he rushed back from voting to a press conference in Espoo, where he hosted a summit with eight other prime ministers from Britain and the Nordic and Baltic nations.

No Finnish government has been toppled by a confidence vote since 1958. The country has been run by coalition governments with strong majorities for decades.

But the rise in 2011 of populist party The Finns, formerly known as True Finns, resulted in a quarrelsome six-party government that has found it hard to agree on spending cuts and economic reforms. Two smaller parties in the coalition quit the government this year.

The coalition's initial prime minister, Jyrki Katainen, stepped down in June to seek a seat in the EU Commission, and only six of the 19 original ministers in the government remain in the cabinet after several resignations and internal battles.

Since Stubb took over from Katainen, economic conditions have deteriorated, not helped by EU sanctions against Finland's neighbor and key trading partner Russia, which has taken counter-measures against the bloc. Last month, Standard & Poor's cut Finland's credit ratings.

Katainen, now vice president of the European Commission, earlier this week noted that his 2011 coalition program had been too vague given the troubles in the economy.

"Of course everyone understands that a six-party ensemble... would have difficulty accommodating all of their different values," he said during a commission hearing.

Finland is set for a general election next April and opposition party Center, which has agrarian roots, is seen as likely to become the largest party and head the new government.

Analysts say the party has managed to present itself as a responsible alternative to the coalition, which has seen a steady stream of battles between Stubb's center-right National Coalition party and the Social Democrats, the second-biggest government group.

"Center party will succeed. I can't see any reason for the situation to change in the course of the next couple of months," political analyst Erkka Railo from the University of Turku.

He noted that Center has said it could co-operate with any other party, making it difficult to forecast the likely make-up of the next coalition.

Center leads in latest opinion poll from public radio YLE with about 25.5 percent support. Stubb's National Coalition party stood at 19 percent, with the Social Democrats and The Finns at around 15 percent each.

Reporting By Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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