Christian Democrats still up for grabs

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Knut Arild Hareide, leader of Norway’s Christian Democrats’ Party, was in the spotlight over the weekend as his small but potentially powerful party’s national board met in Oslo. The party is among those that can tip the balance as to whether the country gets a Conservatives- or Labour-led government coalition after next year’s national election and it opted to stick with the Conservatives, but with one big catch.

Christian Democrats' leader Knut Arild Hareide, speaking at his party's national board meeting on Saturday. PHOTO: Kristelig Folkeparti

Christian Democrats’ leader Knut Arild Hareide, speaking at his party’s national board meeting on Saturday. PHOTO: Kristelig Folkeparti

Hareide announced at the weekend meeting what many commentators had expected: His Christian Democrats are best-served, they believe, to stay on the non-socialist side of Norwegian politics and keep working with Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party (Høyre).

Actually joining or even promising to support a Solberg- and Conservatives-led government coalition, however, will only occur if it does not include the Progress Party as it does now, Hareide declared. The Christian Democrats and the Progress Party simply disagree on too many issues to be able to rule together.

Hareide’s decision, made after lengthy discussions with his party faithful, basically asks Solberg to choose him and his party, which currently only has a little over 4 percent of the vote, instead of the Progress Party, which continues to have double-digit support from voters. That’s viewed as an unrealistic request, but an undaunted and optimistic Hareide is urging the Conservatives to simply cooperate with “as many of the centrist parties as possible” instead of the Progress Party, and thus win voter support for a new right-center government next autumn.

New strategy
In order for that to possibly be an option, the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) would need to quickly drum up much more voter support themselves and win votes away from the Progress Party. They’d also have to pray that the centrist Liberal Party (which, despite its name, is also a non-socialist party on the conservative side of Norwegian politics) also drums up much more voter support than the roughly 4 percent it currently holds. Only then could the three parties form Hareide’s “dream” government coalition.

And then comes the catch: The Christian Democrats’ new strategy, according to Hareide and the nods in his audience on Saturday of fellow party officials, is to no longer guarantee a majority in Parliament for a Conservatives-Progress Party coalition and to flatly rule out governing with the Progress Party. They want Solberg, however, to remain as prime minister.

Otherwise, “we will most likely become part of the opposition” in Parliament after 2017, Hareide told Aftenposten. He confirmed from the podium that in the four years since his party agreed after the last election, along with the Liberals, to be a support party for the current Conservatives-Progress minority coalition, “it’s become clear that the distance” between the Christian Democrats and the Progress Party “is too great for us to sit in a government together.”

He said that “of course, we want government power after 2017.” While his preferred government would be made up of Solberg’s Conservatives, the Liberals and his own party, other centrist parties can be welcome as well.

The Center Party, however, which currently ranks as the largest centrist party with more than 6 percent of the vote, has already allied itself with Labour. There aren’t any other centrist parties left to work with. The Socialist Left party (SV) is too socialist to ever work with the Conservatives. That leaves perhaps the Greens party (Miljøpartiet de Grønne, MDG) as a potential conservative government partner, but that also seems highly unlikely given the Conservatives’ support for the oil industry. The Greens have also voted more often in line with Labour and currently share city government power with Labour and SV in Oslo.

Labour’s door ‘still open’
That leaves Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre hopeful that he’ll still be able to woo Hareide’s Christian Democrats over to his side. Støre told Hareide that “our door is still open” and Støre told state broadcaster NRK that it’s “interesting” how the Christian Democrats still refuse to rule with the Progress Party.

Hareide clearly prefers Solberg as prime minister, though, as prime minister over Støre, whom he did not even mention in his speech to party officials. He also called Solberg “highly competent” and “a person whom I deeply respect,” even though her partnership with the Progress Party has led, for example, to welfare cuts for the disabled and too much liberalization of alcohol policies in his opinion. The party now aims to win voters back by marking its disagreement with Progress Party policies.

The entire situation illustrates how small parties in Norway with very little support among voters can still wield huge influence and win favour for their programs and positions. They can force compromises from the bigger parties, in return for support for their views on key issues. Hareide now intends to exert more influence during the next year and extract more favours from Solberg, not least during ongoing budget negotiations, if his party is to win enough votes to even retain representation in Parliament. That will put Solberg in a difficult position, as the Christian Democrats want to raise taxes and welcome more refugees, while the Progress Party wants to cut taxes and maintain strict immigration laws.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund