April 2, 2016 / 9:57 AM / 2 years ago

Finnish Finance Minister Stubb challenged for party chair

HELSINKI (Reuters) - After weeks of growing criticism from the right wing of his National Coalition Party, Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb faces a challenge for the party’s leadership.

Finland's Finance Minister Alexander Stubb waves as he arrives at a European Union finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Elina Lepomaki, a second-term parliamentarian, said on Saturday in a post on her website that she will run for the party’s chair at its congress in June.

Lepomaki and other right-wing members of the party have criticized Stubb for failing to force through tougher labor- market reforms in negotiations with trade unions and for making too many compromises in the ruling center coalition.

The government wants to persuade the unions to cut labor costs by 5 percent to make the Finnish economy more competitive after three years of recession.

Lepomaki, 34, joined parliament in 2014 after working 10 years in banking and finance.

“I am also qualified to become a finance minister, unlike some of my predecessors”, Lepomaki told newspaper Iltalehti, in an apparent jab at Stubb, who holds degrees in political science and international relations but not finance or economics.

In Finland, a party chair who loses that position generally steps down from a minister’s position as well.

On his Twitter account, Stubb welcomed the challenge from Lepomäki. Other candidates are expected to join the race for the party leadership before summer. An opinion poll last week showed party members who approved of the job he had done as party chair had dropped to 47 percent from 69 percent a year ago.

Lepomaki is not given much chance of unseating Stubb, analysts say, but her candidacy might encourage candidates like Jan Vapaavuori, a vice-president of the European Investment Bank and a former economy minister, to make his own bid.

Finnish media have speculated that Vapaavuori would repeat his challenge for Stubb. He lost a vote for leadership in 2014.

Reporting by Tuomas Forsell, editing by Larry King

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