Christian Democrats caught in crisis

Bookmark and Share

Norway’s Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) are in deep crisis, with their party leader under fire and voter popularity so low that the party’s representation in Parliament is under threat. Speculation is high that party leader Dagfinn Høybråten will need to resign.

Dagfinn Høybråten, leader of the Christian Democrats (KrF), no longer seems popular among voters or party colleagues. PHOTO: Anne Bråtveit/KrF

Høybråten was the subject of a scathing article in newspaper Aftenposten on Friday, in which numerous, if anonymous, party officials viewed him as authoritarian and controlling. Several claimed the KrF veteran is subject to temper tantrums and known for yelling at colleagues in front of others, and sending angry text messages to their mobile phones.

Indications of a deep political split within the party emerged months ago. Now there’s little doubt that Høybråten doesn’t get along with his deputy leaders, Inger Lise Hansen and Dagrun Eriksen, and he’s accused of instilling an atmosphere of fear within the party. Young party members are said to be especially afraid to speak out, for fear of a tongue-lashing from Høybråten.

“I don’t think he realizes how frightening and dangerous he can seem to people,” one KrF official, described as a “central” member of the party, told Aftenposten. Neither Hansen nor Eriksen would comment on their relationship with the party leader, nor would Høybråten comment himself.

He took over as party leader six years ago, when the party’s popularity had fallen to just 6.4 percent of the vote. Since then it’s fallen even more, reaching an historic low of 5.6 percent in the most recent national election last fall. Høybråten vowed to revive the party but recent public opinion polls have shown even further slippage, to levels under the 4 percent required for representation in Parliament.

Now he’s challenged not just by the loss of support from voters but from within his own party as well. One party member said that Høybråten has survived as long as he has because KrF members “are so nice,” with no culture of direct internal criticism. And Høybråten, who has held ministerial posts when KrF held government power, does get credit for his political experience. “He’s knowledgeable and goal-oriented,” said one member, “but as head of a party, he’s the wrong man.”

Newspaper Dagsavisen reports that Knut Arild Hareide is Høybråten’s most likely successor. He’s said to be well-liked, inclusive and armed with experience from the private sector (media house Schibsted). Hareide made it clear, however, that if the current leadership expresses a desire to continue, he won’t be a candidate.

The next party convention is in April of next year. It’s unclear whether Høybråten will remain leader until then.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Join our Forum if you’d like to comment on this story.