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Finnish finance minister faces new challenge as party leader

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

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Interior Minister Petteri Orpo said on Wednesday he would seek to oust Finance Minister Alexander Stubb as leader of Finland’s conservative National Coalition Party because of its declining public support.

Orpo joins second-term parliamentarian Elina Lepomaki in seeking to replace Stubb at a party congress in June.

Stubb, elected chairman in 2014, has faced growing criticism from Lepomaki and other right-wing members of the party, for making too many compromises in the ruling center-right coalition and for failing to force through tougher labor-market reforms in negotiations with trade unions.

But Orpo, a more centrist candidate than either Stubb or Lepomaki, said his conservative party’s declining poll numbers made him join the race.

“The party needs to be stronger. I can’t be satisfied with our current popularity,” Orpo told reporters on Wednesday.

A poll by Finnish broadcaster YLE showed the conservative party on 17 percent support, putting it behind both the opposition party Social Democrats and the coalition-leading Centre party.

As interior minister, Orpo has received support for his handling of the migration crisis from coalition partners in the anti-immigration Finns party, as well as from opposition lawmakers.

Finland received close to 32,500 asylum seekers last year, compared with just 3,600 a year earlier. Along with other Nordic countries, Finland has recently tightened its immigration policies.

Analysts and early polls give Orpo a better chance of unseating Stubb than Lepomaki.

Reporting by Tuomas Forsell Editing by Jeremy Gaunt