Law protecting elected officials from being fired ‘should be changed’

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A Norwegian law that prevents elected officials from being fired during their terms of office should be changed, according to some professors, Members of Parliament and other top politicians. Their calls come after a mayor in the mountain community of Vågå was charged with sexual assault, and after he and his wife delivered startling testimony themselves at his trial now going on in Lillehammer.

Rune Øygard, once a well-regarded member of the Labour Party, has refused to relinquish his mayor’s title until his trial is over. His refusal comes despite clear messages from the party’s national secretary Raymond Johansen, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and both the county and township chapters of the Labour Party that he has lost their confidence. They want him to resign.

Wife aware of bed-sharing
Øygard, age 53, admits to sexually charged communication with the teenage girl who’s accused him of assaulting her over a two-year period, but claims evidence will come later in his trial that will exonerate him. His practice of engaging in what he himself called griseprat (talking dirty) with the girl was inappropriate, he testified, but not enough to make him unworthy of being mayor.

His party colleagues and many others in Vågå disagree, claiming the sexually charged conversation with an underage girl at the very least shows a lack of judgment unworthy of an elected official. On Monday came more seemingly incriminating testimony from Øygard’s wife.

Reidun Øygard admitted she didn’t like hearing the way her husband and the girl talked, but she claims it’s been taken out of context and gives a misleading picture of what was going on between them. She says she and her husband took the girl into their home and their holiday cabin because they thought she was lonely and craved adult company.

Øygard’s wife also testified she knew that her husband and the girl, aged 14 to 16 during the years of the alleged assaults, shared a bed when she traveled with him on trips around Norway in his capacity as a mayor and top Labour Party politician. Reidun Øygard claimed she didn’t think that was unnatural, though, because the girl “was anxious about sleeping alone.”

“I trusted them both,” the accused mayor’s wife testified. “Otherwise I never would have gone along with such things.”

‘Disappointed’
That raised more questions among fellow politicians about their judgment, while testimony continued against Øygard from the girl’s family members and close friends.

“I’m disappointed, like most others,” Live Langøygard of the Vågå Labour Party chapter told newspaper Aftenposten. “I wasn’t prepared for what’s coming out in court. It’s serious.”

Neither she nor other Labour Party officials all the way up to Stoltenberg agree their calls for his resignation threaten his chances of getting a fair trial. “We don’t want to influence the court,” Langøygard said. But they don’t want Øygard anymore either.

Only he can actually “fire” himself, according to current law governing municipalities in Norway. Much emphasis is put on local rule and democracy in Norway, hence the law preventing any meddling in elected positions. Discussion is growing over the proposals to change the law, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday, to prevent errant elected officials from hanging on to their jobs.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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