Kristin Halvorsen wrapped up a record-long 15 years as leader of Norway’s Socialist Left party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) on Saturday, and received long and sustained applause from party faithful. Not even a crisis surrounding her successor could dampen SV’s appreciation for Halvorsen, whose decision to step down marks the end of an era.
Halvorsen, age 51, has kept a high profile on Norway’s political scene for more than two decades. She was first elected to Parliament in 1989 but already had been active for years on the left side of politics. She was elected as SV’s leader in 1997, when the party had 6 percent of the vote in Norway. That doubled, to 12.1 percent under her leadership, and she also transformed SV from a party in perennial opposition to one that seized government power in 2005.
That occurred after she and Jens Stoltenberg hashed out plans for a cooperation between SV and Labour. Joined by the Center Party, they formed Norway’s current left-center, red-green government coalition that remains in power today, seven years later. And in its first term, from 2005 to 2009, Halvorsen became Norway’s first female Finance Minister during a period of tremendous economic growth and strength that not even the global finance crisis has been able to spoil.
Slipped in the polls
She became Education Minister when the coalition was re-elected in 2009, but wasn’t nearly as high-profile. SV started slipping in the public opinion polls and last autumn’s nationwide municipal elections were a major disappointment, prompting Halvorsen to announce on election night that she wanted to step down as leader. It was time, she said, for someone else to revive the party.
Halvorsen, who grew up in Porsgrunn in Telemark County, is known as a cheerful, positive politician with big smile. “She’s a unique combinaton of a warm and thoughtful person who also is strategic and results-oriented,” Åslaug Haga, the former leader of the Center Party who served with Halvorsen in government, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “She’s a tough and wise woman who’s been a joy to work with.”
Labour’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also praised Halvorsen, calling her “the most important leader SV has had.” Surprisingly enough, she also wins praise from the opposite end of the political spectrum, with Carl I Hagen of the conservative Progress Party calling her “smart, smiling and worthy of respect. “We disagree politically, but I feel we’ve had a good personal relationship,” Hagen told Dagsavisen. “I respect that she wants the best for the country, and I think she thinks the same about me.”
Even industrialist and investor Jens Ulltveit Moe had good things to say about Halvorsen. “SV is far from my political stance, but I think she was a very good finance minister and was positively surprised that she toned down some of SV’s political baggage,” Moe said. “I think many were.”
Halvorsen will remain a government minister for SV, now in charge of both education and the ministry dealing with family and equality issues after its minister and Halvorsen’s successor as party leader, Audun Lysbakken, had to resign over funding violations. And within hours of leaving SV’s national meeting over the weekend, she was in place at the government’s annual budget conference in Jevnaker that opened on Sunday.
Halvorsen herself said she wanted to thank her government colleagues for good cooperation over the years. “We have made history together,” she said.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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