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Embattled KrF boss quits politics

Candidates are stepping forward to take over as head of Norway’s small but once-powerful Christian Democrats party, after its embattled leader said he would step down. Dagfinn Høybråten also said he intends to leave politics entirely.

A downtrodden Dagfinn Høybråten appeared on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)'s national nightly news Saturday, to confirm his departure as head of the Christian Democrats. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

Høybråten, who had been the target of sharp criticism in the media all week, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Saturday that he would not run for re-election as leader of the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF). Nor will he be a candidate for a seat Parliament in 2013, he said.

He denied he was quitting because of all the criticism, though, claiming that he had in fact decided two years ago that he would withdraw at the party’s convention in April 2011.

The Christian Democrats, which have produced numerous government ministers over the years and even held the prime minister’s office, have fallen from grace of late. A public opinion poll over the weekend showed that they have support from only 3.2 percent of Norwegian voters, below the 4 percent needed to win representation in Parliament.

That’s disastrous for the once-proud party and Høybråten admitted he hadn’t managed to rebuild it after its worst election result ever last autumn. Not only has the party fared poorly, but fellow party members have claimed that Høybråten alienated them as well because of an allegedly authoritarian leadership style that instilled a climate of fear within party ranks. Newspaper Aftenposten carried stories last week quoting numerous but anonymous party members who suggested the party was in deep crisis.

Høybråten, who generally appears as a mild-mannered, even bland, politician in public refused to comment on the charges, but agreed he could be seen as controlling. Otherwise he said he couldn’t respond to anonymous challenges.

Now speculation is running high over who will succeed Høybråten, perhaps best known for pushing through measures that resulted in smoking bans at Norwegian bars and restaurants. Knut Arild Hareide has emerged as a strong candidate, as have deputy party leader Dagrunn Eriksen and Olav Syversen, a Member of Parliament for KrF from Oslo.

Their mission will be to revive the party, but they face internal conflict between the conservative and reform-oriented sides of the party membership. A program aimed at reforming and revitalizing the party was due this week.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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