Government party in trouble

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One of the three parties making up Norway’s coalition government has lost thousands of members and faces new financial trouble. Record losses for the Center Party come just as the coalition itself is having to tackle new disagreements that may threaten its existence.

NOT SMILING NOW: Liv Signe Navarsete of the Center Party (right) has lost support at a time when she's arguing with fellow government party leaders Jens Stoltenberg of Labour and Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left. PHOTO: regjeringen.no

The Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) is a small party that only attracted around 6 percent of the vote last fall but won government power through its coalition with Labour and the Socialist Left. It traditionally represents rural interests and often has seemed to wield power out of proportion to its support among voters.

Now, according to newspaper Aftenposten, the party is even smaller than anyone thought. A more thorough accounting of its membership shows that its actual base of paying members is around 4,300 less than the party itself had reported. Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete had to admit that some local party chapters had boasted membership numbers far greater than those who actually had paid membership dues.

All told, the new accounting shows that the party lost 20 percent of its membership in 2009 and now has only 18,293 paying members. The record loss of members also led to a record financial loss of NOK 2.3 million.

The heavy loss forced the party to use up 31 percent of its own savings, leaving it with its smallest capital base since 1995, reports Aftenposten.

Several local chapters, especially in the Trøndelag area, had inflated their membership rosters, counting many people who had been billed for membership dues but hadn’t paid. “Now we have to ration our resources and save money,” Navarsete said.

The party’s woes emerged just after Navarsete criticized her own government partner, Labour, over its stand on hospital reform. The party doesn’t want to close any local hospitals or suspend some of their health care services in Norway, while Labour officials claim “changes” are needed to provide more efficient health care.

The government parties have also been arguing over school closures and environmental issues such as oil exploration off the northern coast.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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