Progress Party's Jensen sets sights on prime minister's job

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Vowing that she aims “to renew Norway,” the leader of Norway’s most popular right-leaning party rallied her supporters at the party’s annual convention over the weekend. Siv Jensen of The Progress Party

(Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) has made it clear she wants to take over for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, meaning the upcoming national campaign is shaping up as a battle of “Jens vs. Jensen.”There’s no question that the Progress Party (Frp) commands the most voter support among Norway’s non-socialist parties. It long ago surpassed the Conservative Party (Høyre) , which traditionally was considered the main opponent of the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) . The Conservatives have had a hard time acknowledging Frp’s rise in the polls and insist that if a non-socialist coalition wins the September election, their leader Erna Solberg should be prime minister.

Jensen, fully aware that her party has at times even scored higher than Labour in the polls, wants to let the voters decide. If Frp does well, and gathers more votes than the Conservatives, she intends to take over the prime minister’s office. Frp is even being bold enough to say it’s ready to govern alone.

It’s not a totally unlikely scenario for a party that has endured years of ridicule and disparagement from its fellow politicians in and out of parliament. Frp was the lone voice in the wilderness during the years when Labour was still building and dominating Norway’s social welfare state. Things started changing in the 1980s and by the 1990s, Frp was making serious inroads among voters weary of high taxes and declining social services. During the past several years, Frp has been winning newfound respect and most other parties are realizing that Jensen, her charismatic predecessor Carl I Hagen and other party fellows should be taken seriously.Just two years ago, for example, the Conservatives refused to even consider sharing government power with Frp. The Conservatives and Frp have cooperated fairly well at the municipal level in several cities (not least Bergen and Oslo), however, and Solberg is coming around. Lars Sponheim, the outspoken leader of the small non-socialist party Venstre, still claims he’ll refuse to have anything to do with Frp or a coalition where it’s a member, while the Christian Democrats waffle between the political left and right. The latter, however, has softened its stand against Frp.

Jensen, meanwhile, rattled off a long list of things she’d champion if the non-socialists win power away from the current left-center government coalition led by Labour. Tax relief is at the top, along with more funding for police, defense and care for the elderly. Frp favors more oil exploration in the Arctic, questions the need for measures against climate change, supports an active role in NATO and wants to limit immigration.

Frp also has long advocated more use of Norway’s oil revenues, cuts in the state bureaucracy and reduced state support for agriculture, culture and foreign aid.

On Saturday, delegates to the national gathering also voted to support a proposal to make euthanasia legal in Norway. Frp believes terminally ill persons would be allowed to end their lives, under controlled circumstances and with at least two doctors involved.

“We want to help people who are in a lot of pain,” said one party delegate. Commentators called the party’s initiative “historic” since it’s the first time a political party in Norway has supported euthanasia. It’s already allowed in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and parts of the US.

There already were signs of renewal within the party itself as the party meeting got underway Friday. A proposal to change Jensen’s formal title from the more male-oriented “foreman” to “leader” was approved. When she took over for Hagen, no such proposal prevailed.