Stoltenberg faces ministerial shuffle

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg answered questions outside the Royal Palace on Monday afternoon, after his minister in charge of family and equality issues had submitted his resignation to King Harald. Now Stoltenberg faces some acute personnel issues of his own, as he fills the void left by Audun Lysbakken.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg outside the Royal Palace in Oslo on Monday, after cabinet minister Audun Lysbakken decided to resign. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Lysbakken of the Socialist Left party (SV) gave up his ministerial post in Stoltenberg’s Labour-led government after admitting to “mistakes” made within his ministry that involved conflicts of interest and funding allocation violations. Stoltenberg said he “respected” Lysbakken’s decision to resign but stopped short of saying he was sorry about it, even though he called Lysbakken a “strong” and “capable” politician who had made an “important mark” on the government.

Stoltenberg said Education Minister and outgoing SV leader Kristin Halvorsen would immediately take over responsibility for Lysbakken’s ministry, but conceded that was no “permanent solution.” Now he must wait for SV to hold its national meeting this weekend and see who emerges as party leader after Halvorsen, and who SV proposes as its representatives within the government.

It’s a complicated and difficult situation for SV, Halvorsen herself admitted, because Lysbakken was expected to be elected as new SV leader. Halvorsen indicated that will still happen, despite all the trouble he’s in and his decision to resign as minister. She told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she thinks her party colleagues respect how he’s handled the situation and will still want him as their leader.

“He has so incredibly much to contribute,” Halvorsen told NRK. Lysbakken himself is still offering his services and will take over as SV leader if elected. Website Aftenposten.no reported that Heikki Holmås, who was SV’s other candidate for leader, said he won’t challenge Lysbakken for the spot.

Questions thus remain over how SV will be represented within the government, not least because party leaders are expected to be ministers and take part in what’s called underutvalg, the group in which the government coalition’s leaders try to resolve differences and settle on policy. Stoltenberg wouldn’t speculate on whether Lysbakken may return to head another ministry and thus be able to sit in the underutvalg, but told reporters that he’d had “such good cooperation with SV” for so many years that he doesn’t see it as a problem.

Nor would Halvorsen speculate on what Lysbakken’s resignation ultimately will mean for SV’s position in the government, which already has been weak because of a fall in voter support.

Stoltenberg did say he doesn’t think Lysbakken will disappear from Norwegian politics. “I’m completely certain” he’ll stay involved, Stoltenberg said, likely for many years.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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