Solberg downplays divided campaigns

Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives are running for re-election as leader of a government coalition, meaning they’ll likely need to team up again with Norway’s three other right- and centrist parties to form one. She insists she’s not disappointed that the Christian Democrats now won’t campaign jointly with all four, after a highly public blow-up between them her current coalition partner, the Progress Party.

All four leaders of the parties that have support Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s government have willingly posed together during the past four years. Not any longer, with Christian Democrats’ leader Knut Arild Hareide (at left) refusing to campaign jointly with Siv Jensen’s Progress Party. At right, Solberg and Liberals’s leader Trine Schei Grande. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

On Thursday, the Christian Democrats announced they would not take part in any joint campaign events with Norway’s other non-socialist parties (the Conservatives, Progress and the Liberals). “We’re conducting an election campaign in which we have one goal: to promote the Christian Democrats’ policies,” stated its spokesman Dag Fedøy. “We want a center-right goverment. In light of the party’s cooperation plan (with the other parties), we therefore do not find it natural to take part in joint events with the four party leaders in the election campaign.”

The statement, first obtained by newspaper VG and state broadcaster NRK, came just a day after Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug of the Progress Party all but attacked the Christian Democrats’ leader, Knut Arild Hareide, for being too soft on religious fundamentalism, live on national radio Wednesday morning. The outspoken and controversial Listhaug, who often wears a cross and is trying to appeal to the Christian vote in competition with the Christian Democrats, accused him of “licking the backs of imams, instead of confronting folks with extreme attitudes.”

That infuriated the generally mild-mannered Hareide, but he claimed on Thursday that his party’s decision not to campaign jointly with the other non-socialist parties was not related to his on-air quarrel with Listhaug. “There’s no connection,” he told news bureau NTB.

NRK reported on Thursday that Solberg had wanted all four leaders of the parties that have formed and supported her government leadership for the past four years to take part in several joint events during campaign that’s now in full-wing this month. She managed to keep her minority coalition with the Progress Party together for their entire term in office, and is believed to be displeased with Listhaug’s ongoing provocations and noisy conflict with Hareide.

Solberg’s Conservatives and Hareide’s Christian Democrats get along well, but he won’t join a Conservatives-led government if the Progress Party is also part of it. PHOTO: Høyre

Later on Thursday, though, Solberg downplayed it all and released a series of text messages between herself and Hareide. Both claimed to each other that the media had “blown up” his party’s decision against joint campaign events.

— “We talked about this before the summer, and I think the media has perhaps exaggerated what (the decision) means,” Hareide wrote to the prime minister.

— “Thanks for the message,” Solberg responded, adorned with a smiley face. “I seen that the media has blown this up. I want to say that we don’t view this as dramatic. We didn’t have any plans for joint events anyway, the only thing we discussed before the summer holidays was promoting Nye Veier (her government’s reform of roadbuilding in Norway).”

— “Great,” answered Hareide. “It’s natural that we do things like this. We want a center-Conservatives government with you as prime minister. Say hello to Sindre (Solberg’s husband) and thanks for the visit this summer.” Hareide was referring to a political courtesy call Solberg made to Hareide’s family home on the west coast in July.

— “Good,” concluded Solberg in her reply. “See you in Arendal (where all the parties will be meeting next week, with their leaders taking part in a major debate). It will be fun with the party leader debate. Say hello to Lisa Maria (Hareide’s wife) and the children.” That conclusive message was adorned with a thumbs-up symbol.

Conservatives’ leader Erna Solberg (right) and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen seem to get along well, like here when Solberg wished Progress well at their annual party meeting in May. It’s some of the other provocative politicians in the Progress Party who tend to cause conflicts, like Sylvi Listhaug. PHOTO: Høyre

It was all an attempt to get out the word that the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats remain close political allies despite some differences they’ve had over the years, and despite the differences the Christian Democrats still have with the Progress Party. They have repeatedly claimed they will not join a government coalition including the Progress Party, because their political differences are too great. That causes problems for Solberg, who likely will still need the Progress Party to form a government. She and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen (who also has served as finance minister for the past four years) seem to get along well, but the Progress Party’s most right-wing oriented politicians like Listhaug, Christian Tybring-Gjedde and Per Sandberg tend to cause conflicts and spoil cooperation. Sandberg and Hareide have also had some highly public quarrels.

Listhaug’s recent provocations thus threaten to ruin Solberg’s plans for a new coalition, since neither the Christian Democrats nor the Liberals are likely to win enough votes to form a center-right coalition with the Conservatives themselves. The Progress Party is still twice as large as either, and Solberg needs their support, while the Progress Party continues to claim it will never officially support a government of which it’s not a member.

This can all clear the way for the rival Labour Party to form a coalition with the Socialist Left and the protectionist Center Party instead. Labour has also courted the Christian Democrats, but Hareide made it clear recently that his party prefers cooperating with the right- instead of the left-side of Norwegian politics. He just wants to distance himself from the Progress Party as much as possible.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund