Christian Democrats find their leader

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Norway’s small and struggling Christian Democrats party (Kristelig folkeparti, Krf) has finally found the leader they hope will bring them out of the shadows of near-death and prompt former voters and supporters to see the light, in their favour.

Knut Arild Hareide is taking over a party that's lost voter support and has been deeply split. He hopes to be a unifying force. PHOTO: Kristelig folkeparti

Knut Arild Hareide, a 37-year-old bachelor, has responded to the call from party faithful. He cast aside doubts Wednesday night and told reporters he actually did have “great desire” to take over as party leader, “and will say ‘yes, thank you,’ if asked to do so by the party’s internal election committee.”

It’s almost assured that it will after the committee meets on December 2. That will clear the way for Hareide to succeed embattled Krf leader Dagfinn Høybråten, who lost favour with his flock and announced earlier this autumn that he intended to resign.

Hareide, a former executive with the Schibsted media firm, will take over a party that once was considered one of Norway’s important, and which led the government as recently as 2005. Hareide himself was a cabinet minister for the environment when former Krf leader Kjell Magne Bondevik was prime minister.

Lately, though, Krf has been a shadow of its former self. Voters have abandoned it and several other centrist parties that are being squeezed out by the dominant Labour, Conservative and Progress parties.

Voter support for the Christian Democrats has fallen to just over 4 percent, barely enough too maintain representation in Parliament, after years of conflict between the party’s conservative, traditional members and its more liberal members who see a need for reforms.

Hareide, currently one of Krf’s 10 Members of Parliament, claims he thinks the party is now more unified and that he hopes to be a unifying force himself. He’s appealing for more openness and tolerance from both the evangelical “Bible belt” members in western and southern Norway and the more liberal, urbane members in the cities. “It goes both ways,” Hareide says.

Conflicts remain, over such issues as homosexuality and alcohol policies, but Hareide seems keen to take on the challenge of tackling them and making the Christian Democrats more visible on a host of other issues on the public agenda. Hareide currently heads the parliament’s transport committee.

“Our pounding heart for social welfare combined with individual freedoms and individual self-worth has enormous potential,” he told newspaper Aftenposten. “I want a society where there’s room for everyone.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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