Small Center Party in big trouble

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Norway’s small but powerful Center Party, which makes up part of the government coalition, has landed in a heap of trouble after a string of embarrassing revelations over top party members’ failure to report gifts. Then came news that the party itself had accepted large, illegal cash contributions, while some weren’t used for their intended purpose.

Center Party Liv Signe Navarset (left) and her party have been causing some embarrassment for the government led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (center). At right, the coalition government's third party leader Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

The political winds have been blowing at gale force around the Center Party, its leader Liv Signe Navarsete and two other top party officials who also are government ministers and already were in vulnerable positions. Now it turns out that three of the party’s four ministers are being called into question, and the party has had to pay back two of its illegal gifts totalling NOK 700,000 (USD 116,000).

Negative stories about the Center Party have filled local media for the past two weeks, since it first emerged that Navarsete was among ministers who had accepted expensive personal gifts and failed to report them.

She apologized but the storm was far from over. Her colleague Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa (transport minister) also had accepted gifts, and appointed the head of local utility Eidsiva Energi, Ola Rinnan, as chairman of civil aviation authority Avinor right after Eidsiva Energi had given Kleppa’s party NOK 500,000 in cash support to highlight renewable energy issues during last year’s election campaign. Not only was that one of the illegal gifts, but it raised questions of political patronage.

“I understand why you’re asking about this,” Kleppa told reporters, but she claims she wasn’t aware of the cash gift from Rinnan. Nor was another, already embattled Center Party colleague, Oil & Energy Minister Terje Riis-Johansen, aware of the gift before he granted a concession to the same company for a controversial windmill park.

It was inevitable that allegations of “cash for favours” would arise, and a parliamentary committee is calling in the various Center Party ministers for questioning. Per-Kristian Foss, a member of the committee for the Conservatives, thinks it’s all part of “a long series of cases” that indicate “economic rot” within the Center Party.

Both Riis-Johansen and Kleppa already have been targeted for possible replacement because of criticism over their handling of various other issues. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party has reportedly been highly irritated by the embarrassments coming out of the Center Party.

All three Center Party ministers (Navarsete, Riis-Johansen and Kleppa) are now also under review by the Justice Ministry’s legal department, reports newspaper Dagsavisen, and that’s serious for the party. It doesn’t help much that Kleppa and Navarsete asked for the review themselves.

“I can’t remember any Norwegian party being in this kind of situation before,” election researcher Hanne Marthe Narud told Dagsavisen. Much of the trouble with the cash gifts is blamed on the party’s administration, prompting Narud to comment that she thinks the party organization has let down its own ministers.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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