Cabinet Minister Liv Signe Navarsete, embattled leader of the small Center Party, apologized on national radio Thursday morning for losing her temper and yelling at a voter and local backer the night before. Her outburst came, ironically enough, just as her government boss, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, was claiming that confrontation is a sign of weakness. Navarsete’s anger also illustrates the frustration she and others from the government coalition’s two small parties have been feeling of late.
Navarsete’s party, which currently can barely claim enough voter support to win representation in Parliament, lost another political battle last week when Stoltenberg’s Labour Party pushed through closures of some maternity wards in outlying areas. One of them was in Navarsete’s home territory, at Nordfjordeid in the county of Sogn og Fjordane.
She had to face angry voters at a campaign meeting in the scenic mountain community Wednesday night, and that’s when she blew up at a voter and local hospital champion who accused the Center Party of destroying the districts instead of developing them.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” shrieked Navarsete. She went on to yell at those assembled, claiming that she had spent “long days and long nights” negotiating to keep the maternity wards open, and that she didn’t appreciate getting yelled at herself for her efforts, even though they were unsuccessful.
Navarsete has also claimed she has been “overruled and trampled upon, totally” and that “everyone in the government knows how I feel about that.”
On Thursday morning, just as Stoltenberg was on the front page of newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) claiming that “yelling and confrontation are not a sign of strength,” Navarsete went on national radio to apologize for her behaviour.
“I could definitely have spared myself that outburst,” she told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “When I listen to and see myself (on video from the incident), there’s no doubt that I seem angry.”
Navarsete said she was “very sorry” for yelling at local hospital champion Janne Endal Andersson, noting that she’s glad Andersson “is a tolerant woman” who said she could take Navarsete’s verbal assault in front of TV cameras (external link to video from NRK, in Norwegian) and many other party members. Navarsete claimed Thursday she actually had “great respect” for Andersson, and blamed her temper tantrum on her own personal commitment to the local hospital issue.
Political observers were nonetheless calling Navarsete’s behaviour “unwise” and it clearly goes against Stoltenberg’s own recipe for success as a politician. In the interview with DN, Stoltenberg linked his ability to hold his traditionally unruly Labour Party together to his ongoing efforts to remain patient while searching for solutions to conflicts.
“What’s the point of being hard and tough?” Stoltenberg mused to DN. He said that yelling and pounding on the table is more a sign of weakness and uncertainty. “I believe the most important quality for strong leadership is patience,” he said.
Navarsete lost her temper after months of conflicts over issues where both her party and the other coalition partner, the Socialist Left (SV), have lost many political battles. Navarsete also has faced numerous personal controversies, clearly is under pressure and questions have arisen over how long she’ll survive as party leader.
Small parties’ frustration
It’s a new situation for a party that long has been accustomed to wielding an arguably disproportionate amount of power in championing district politics, than overall voter support would justify. Navarsete’s deputy leader and new Oil and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe seems to be waiting in the wings to take over, but he also has been accused of waffling or changing his position on key party platforms, like recently when he said he now thinks wind energy will be too expensive to develop in Norway, and that he thinks Lofoten and Vesterålen should ultimately be opened to oil and gas exploration.
With the season for annual party meetings in high gear, government partner SV also has lost fights over everything from carbon capture delays at Statoil’s Mongstad plant to power lines under construction in Hardanger. SV also has lost its efforts to force state-controlled oil company Statoil to pull out of the controversial oil sands project in Canada.
Some claim SV, mid-way through its second term with government power, has lost its radical edge and become more conservative, even agreeing to support Norway’s military intervention in Libya. Party officials deny they’ve softened their stance too much, but party leader Kristin Halvorsen seems to have adopted some of Stoltenberg’s methods for maintaining peace and harmony within the party. Navarsete now may attempt the same.