Finnish government survives no-confidence vote over racism scandal

By Essi Lehto

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's government survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote on Friday that had been called over a racism scandal that has rocked the ruling coalition since it took office in June.

An official tally showed 106 members of the 200-seat parliament backed the coalition, while 65 members supported the no-confidence motion proposed by three opposition parties. The remaining members either abstained or gave blank votes.

Within days of assuming power the four-party, right-wing government was in turmoil after Finnish media revealed that several ministers from the far-right Finns Party had posted statements in the past that were widely condemned as racist.

In an attempt to stave off collapse, the government last week agreed on a policy to combat intolerance and brought it up on Wednesday for a plenary discussion.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo of the conservative, pro-business National Coalition Party said he believed the government's new anti-discrimination policy had persuaded parliament to support the cabinet.

"I am really satisfied that the confidence was clear, everyone has been able to see that this summer has been challenging around this discussion of racism," Orpo told reporters after the vote.

"The government does not accept any form of racism," he added.

Parliament voted separately over confidence in Finance Minister Riikka Purra and Economic Affairs Minister Wille Rydman, both of the Finns Party, and they also won parliamentary backing.

Purra, who is the Finns Party's leader, apologised in July for anonymous comments she acknowledged she had posted online about 15 years ago, although she said many had been taken out of context.

The Finns Party's first economy minister Vilhelm Junnila resigned at the end of June, just 10 days into his term in office, after being accused of having made repeated references to Adolf Hitler and Nazis.

The party soon replaced him with Rydman, whose former girlfriend then leaked to Finland's largest daily Helsingin Sanomat his private messages that contained racial slurs.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto; Writing by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Frances Kerry)