Reuters International

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

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By Jussi Rosendahl

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's National Coalition Party may replace Alexander Stubb as its leader at a party congress on Saturday, a move that would probably also oust him as finance minister, a poll on Tuesday showed.

In the survey by a Finnish broadcaster MTV, 59 percent of party representatives polled said they would vote for Petteri Orpo, the interior minister, and 33 percent for Stubb. The rest were undecided or favoured a third candidate, Elina Lepomaki.

Stubb has faced growing criticism since gaining a seat in a new coalition government in last year's election, both for his party's poor showing in polls and for compromises made in the three-party government. A polyglot, social media-savvy sportsman, he has also come under fire for his image and leadership style.

"He is too self-centric, he doesn't listen to others too much. And his appearance does not support the image required from the finance minister," said Eero Lehti, a member of parliament from the NCP. "He is internationally oriented, but the role of a party leader is 95 percent about domestic policy."

In addition, the Finnish economy - called as "the sick man of Europe" by Stubb himself - has been struggling, prompting a warning from the European Union over growing public debt. Orpo, a careful consensus-seeker, has said that if he is elected party leader he will also assume the role of finance minister.

Stubb has accepted some of the criticism but said he would still run to be re-elected. Analysts said the tight race has put his party in a bad situation.

"The vote includes big risks for the party ... A quarrelsome coalition member is not helping the government, either," said Erkka Railo, a political scientist at the University of Turku.

The coalition government, which also includes Prime Minister Juha Sipila's Centre Party and the nationalist Finns party, was close to collapse last year. But it has since pushed through labour and healthcare reforms and a string of controversial spending cuts.

The MTV poll queried 97 of 160 members of NCP district boards. The party congress, which will have hundreds of voters, will decide the leader on Saturday.

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