KrF reformer wins Bondevik's nod

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Inger Lise Hansen, a young deputy leader of Norway’s unpopular Christian Democrats (KrF), has been at the center of a political storm since urging liberal reforms of the party that once even objected to color TV. On Monday Hansen won the public support of a former prime minister from the party, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and for that she’s grateful.

Bondevik, who now heads a peace institute in Oslo, told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday that the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) “must not shove (Hansen) out of the party, that would be wrong.”

Instead, Bondevik urged party faithful “to take good care” of a talented young politician like Hansen, whoshook up the party’s most conservative factionswhen she suggested reforms aimed at reviving voter support. KrF, once an influential political party, won only 5.5 percent of the vote in last fall’s election, and has slipped even further since.

Hansen’s proposed reforms include tolerance for gay marriage, membership in the European Union, reconsideration of the party’s unwavering support for Israel and its insistence that party leaders declare themselves Christian. Her reforms have been warmly welcomed in some quarters. One professor and political expert noted the irony, for example, that KrF’s insistence on the Christian declaration means the Norwegian party that’s Israel’s biggest backer excludes people of the Jewish faith. “That’s crazy,” Professor Frank Aarebrot told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv .

But the party’s Christian fundamentalists maintain that Hansen is assaulting the party’s very foundation. Some have said she should leave the party, while others question her own Christianity.

“That’s serious and I think we need an end to that,” Bondevik told Aftenposten . “I know her well, and can ensure that there’s no need for such thoughts.”

Bondevik stayed mum when the political controversy broke out around Hansen. He has steadfastly stayed out of internal party politics since retiring several years ago, leaving issues and decisions up to current party leaders. He hasn’t wanted to take on the role of a “party elder” keen to retain influence.

But now he says he’s making an exception. He wanted to wait until current KrF leader Dagfinn Høybråten returned from a trip to the US and had a chance to comment on the controversy. Høybråten did so on Friday, saying that while he disagreed with Hansen’s proposed reforms, he welcome a debate over them when the time was ripe to reconsider the party’s platform. He even indicated he was proud of Hansen.

“I think Dagfinn tackled the situation well … and refrained from the pressure to slap Hansen’s hand,” Bondevik told Aftenposten .

“It’s incredibly important that there’s room for debate within a political party,” Bondevik stressed. “KrF must have the ambition of becoming larger. And then we must tolerate various standpoints, and that goes both ways.”