UPDATED: Liv Signe Navarsete has had trouble controlling her temper before and now it’s plunged her back into the headlines. Navarsete, head of the small but powerful Center Party, finally apologized for yelling at the head of the party’s youth group in public, after the group claimed Navarsete’s leadership style is “based on fear of competition.”
Norwegian voters may know Navarsete best for being afraid of competition for local farmers and agricultural products, which results in her constant efforts to keep cheaper and often better-quality imports out of local markets. Now several of her own party fellows claim Navarsete fears competition from anyone challenging her opinions and position. That, they claim, has led to personnel conflicts within the party and resignations.
The party has been part of Norway’s left-center government coalition since 2005, giving it political control over several ministries even though it only had 6.2 percent of the vote at the last election in 2009. Voter support has since shrunk to just 3.9 percent during Navarsete’s tenure, less than the 4 percent needed for representation in Parliament, and has become a liability to the government’s dominant Labour Party, which still hopes to win re-election for a second time next fall. Not only do the vast majority of voters reject the Center Party’s policies, they’re getting angry with Labour for going along with some of Navarsete’s demands.
Her apparent demand for unquestioning loyalty among her own party faithful landed her in an embarrassing position over the weekend. It all started Friday, when newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported how Navarsete publicly scolded Sandra Borch, the 24-year-old head of Senterungdommen (Center Party Youth), at a seminar on the island of Dyrøy in Troms, northern Norway, last month. Navarsete was angry that Borch had expressed support for outgoing Center Party deputy leader Ola Borten Moe, first telling DN earlier this year that she thought Navarsete was nurturing an unnecessary personal conflict with Moe and then telling Aftenposten that she still hoped Moe would be party leader some day.
The incident, in which Navarsete lashed out at Borch in front of a group of young teenage recruits to the party, prompted the youth group to send a letter to the party’s central board, demanding an apology. They were shocked by Navarsete’s angry remarks to Borch in meeting hall with around 200 others present as well.
“We won’t tolerate such behaviour from the party leader,” the youth group wrote, adding that Navarsete’s leadership style “damages the organization and cooperation.” It wasn’t the first time Navarsete yelled at critics in public, and she was forced to apologize for another incident last year. Just two months before, her future as party leader had been in question over her acceptance of expensive gifts that she failed to declare and the party’s redirection of funding for alternative projects to the party’s re-election campaign.
First apology not accepted
She made what Borch and many others consider a lukewarm apology, sending out an e-mail in which she wrote she was sorry that Borch “had felt yelled at,” and that wasn’t her intention. Borch didn’t accept that over the weekend, telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she wanted “a better apology.” Navarsete also came with more thinly veiled criticism, writing she was “sorry that Sandra and other youth group members hadn’t taken up how she felt directly with me.”
Navarsete did write that she now realized there was a need “to square up” with Borch and then declined further comment pending a meeting between the two. On Sunday night, however, she told NRK that should would now make an unconditional apology to Borch at a meeting set for Monday. She wouldn’t change what she called her “engaged” style, but she was sorry for the public reprimand.
Controversy continued to swirl around Navarsete on Monday morning, however, after DN reported that Navarsete also has been trying to fire deputy party leader Moe’s top political adviser for months. He’s fighting hard to retain Ivar Vigdenes in the Oil and Energy Ministry that Moe still heads. That gives another indication of a power struggle going on in the party, with more conservative and traditional forces (reportedly led by Moe) clashing with what Navarsete has called her more “modern” politics.
Commentators declared that the Borch incident shows “self-destructive tendencies” within the party, and readers were reminded that newspaper VG had revealed in the summer of 2010 that Navarsete had spent NOK 40,000 of taxpayers’ money to obtain help from Zen Leadership, a firm that uses Zen Buddism means of controlling anger. It didn’t seem to help, with other party officials coming forth with their own stories of being yelled at in public by Navarsete. As one commentator wrote, “if that happens in public, one can only imagine what goes on behind closed doors.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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