Siv Jensen, the leader of Norway’s largest opposition party, won re-election at its annual meeting over the weekend. One of the Progress Party board members that she expected to work with, though, failed to win support.
Jensen is a serious contender for prime minister, given voter support for the relatively right-wing Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). It has consistently held on to as much as 30 percent of the vote in recent months and remains a threat to the Labour Party, which currently holds government power with two coalition partners.
Jensen delivered a typically angry speech at her party’s national gathering near Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, blasting the current left-center government’s policies and even comparing Norway’s health care system to that run by the former Soviet Union. Her Labour opponents typically claimed that Jensen and her party, if given power, would dismantle Norway’s social welfare state.
Jensen, a single career politician, took over as Frp leader in 2006 and led the party to its best showing ever at the polls last fall. Frp clinched 22.9 percent of the vote in the September national election and that made it no surprise that she was re-elected as party leader on Sunday.
It was a surprise, though, that the party’s former deputy leader and longtime mayor of Os on the west coast didn’t win his bid for election to the party’s national board. Terje Søviknes has been among the party’s most successful with the voters, even though he had to resign as deputy leader several years ago in the wake of a sex scandal. He was trying to mount a full comeback at the national level over the weekend.
Instead he became the victim of a conflict within the party over road tolls (bompenger). A large faction within the party, which is known for urging tax relief, simply hates the use of road tolls to finance highway improvements. Søviknes had voted in favour of road tolls in his home district to ensure project funding, and he also supports a higher level of compromise and cooperation with other parties than many other party members.
He lost to challenger Bård Hoksrud and admitted he was disappointed. “I have stood up for our need to think cooperation,” he told reporters.
His party has a long history of personnel conflicts, though, and nasty battles over political compromise. Now it’s up to Jensen to hold her forces together and maintain momentum after winning what former leader Carl I Hagen called “the power, the honor and the burdens” of leading the Progress Party.