Party personalities under pressure
January 14, 2011
The leader of one of Norway’s coalition government parties, and the deputy leader of another party in opposition, are both facing uncertainty over their future as top politicians in Norway. Both parties are very small, but can wield a surprising amount of power.
Liv Signe Navarsete’s days as leader of the Center Party may be numbered, write some of Norway’s leading newspapers, after she was called in for questioning last week by Norway’s economic crimes unit Økokrim. At issue is the party’s acceptance of funding earmarked for alternative energy projects that instead was used in the party’s last re-election campaign. Navarsete has also been in trouble over her acceptance of some expensive gifts that she failed to declare.
She wants to continue as leader of the party best known for championing the interests of farmers and rural communities in Norway. Newspaper VG reported this week, however, that if the party is charged with misappropriation of funds, she may be forced to step down or, at the very least, not return as a candidate to lead the party at its convention this spring.
Waiting in the wings is an ambitious young man, Ola Borten Moe, a farmer from Sør-Trøndelag and Member of Parliament who’s the grandson of a former short-term prime minister for the Center Party, Per Borten. Borten Moe is poised to take over the spot as deputy leader of the party currently held by Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk, who confirmed a few weeks ago that he won’t seek re-election to his party post.
If Borten Moe seizes Brekk’s post, and Navarsete is forced to resign, the 34-year-old could suddenly find himself as party leader and a government minister himself, since leaders of government parties almost always can claim top ministerial posts. He clearly will like that and Navarsete won’t. It’s been reported the two are not the best of friends and that she has viewed Borten Moe as being more keen on promoting himself than the party.
The party’s top leadership is meeting this weekend for a national board meeting with lots of items on their troubled agenda. In addition to facing possible criminal charges, the party has only been able to claim around 4 percent of the vote in recent public opinion polls, dangerously close to the minimum needed for representation in Parliament.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who heads the government’s dominant Labour Party, has mostly stayed mum on Navarsete’s and the Center Party’s problems, even though its threatened indictment would be dramatic for his left-center coalition. Stoltenberg’s top aide, Mina Gerhardsen, said Stoltenberg wanted to wait for the criminal investigation to conclude before commenting, and didn’t want to add to speculation.
Meanwhile, at the even smaller Christian Democrats’ party (Kristelig Folkeparti), Inger Lise Hansen has said she wants to continue in her role as deputy leader, despite controversy around her performance. Conservative elements within the party want her out, but she has a good relationship with the new leader of the Christian Democrats, Knut Arild Hareide, and claims “very many” party members around the county have asked her to continue.
Hansen is keen on renewing the party and making it appeal to younger voters, but she needs to win the confidence of the party’s election committee before the convention this spring. If she doesn’t, she can run independently, but that’s rare and often seen as divisive in Norway, where the parties themselves decide who will be their leaders and ordinary voters vote for the parties, not the people themselves.