Shamed Sp leader still faces ouster

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One newspaper commentator in Norway called it “one of the most embarrassing moments” in the recent history of the Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp): The feisty leader of the party, a member of the country’s ruling government coalition, had to make a new and unconditional apology to the leader of the party’s own youth group with TV cameras rolling, and now she still may lose her powerful post.

A chastened Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete (center) had to make a full, unconditional and highly public apology to the leader of the party’s youth group, Sandra Borch (left) after Navarsete lost her temper once again and yelled at Borch in front of young party recruits. Navarsete also had to promise that she would improve her leadership style, but her future as party leader appears far from secure. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

It was Sp leader Liv Signe Navarsete’s turn to be embarrassed after she had humiliated and angered the leader of Sp’s youth group Senterungdommen, Sandra Borch, in public last month. The party’s sentralstyre (the ruling board of directors) demanded that Navarsete fully apologize to Borch in front of TV cameras, all of the country’s major newspapers and her own party colleagues.

Navarsete, who earlier had made what many saw as a half-hearted apology to Borch and continued to contest Borch’s version of reality, didn’t face complaints only from Borch and the youth group’s own board. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Wednesday that top Sp officials including Lars Peder Brekk, the leader of the party’s representatives in Parliament, and the deputy leader of the party, Ola Borten Moe, who also serves as Norway’s Oil and Energy Minister, had directly criticized Navarsete’s leadership style and the way she treats her own party fellows. The party also appears immersed in a nasty power struggle between Navarsete and Moe, and that now Navarsete is losing.

Navarsete reportedly arrived at a special meeting of the party’s board ready to continue defending herself and contesting Borch’s account of the episode at a seminar on Dyrøy in northern Norway in September. DN reported, though, that a Center Party MP who witnessed Navarsete yelling at Borch, and who physically had taken Navarsete’s arm and led her away from Borch,  was waiting in the wings to describe what she saw. At that point, Navarsete apparently gave up her fight and agreed to apologize, not only for losing her temper with Borch but also for her leadership style. After saying on Sunday that she was an “engaged” person who had a temper, she had to promise to change her ways.

Conflicts not over
Party officials, already faced with a major loss of voter support during Navarsete’s tenure and a string of earlier problems with Navarsete’s temper, tried to contend that the conflict that’s dominated Norwegian media since before the weekend had thus been settled. They claimed “the foundation was laid for good cooperation” between the youth group and “the mother party,” and that they wanted a party culture with tolerance for new ideas and “engaged” participants.

Narvarsete herself, though, conceded that she hadn’t decided whether she would run for re-election as party leader next spring, in advance of the fall national election. It’s no secret that Moe has been viewed as her potential replacement even though he surprisingly declined reelection to Parliament next year. Website vg.no reported Wednesday that some forces in the party now want a leadership debate right away, and believe Navarsete should be replaced quickly.

“I think it’s natural that we have a leadership debate in the party before the next annual meeting,” Borch told DN. “First Liv Signe Navarsete must clarify whether she wants reelection. The youth group will then take a position on the work of the election committee.”

Navarsete appeared chastened after Tuesday’s meetings. “I went too far,” she admitted, in her scolding of Borch. “Such episodes won’t be repeated.” It remained unclear why she’d reacted so strongly to Borch’s support of Moe, or why Navarsete apparently still felt threatened by Moe even though he won’t run for re-election to Parliament and therefore seems out of the race for party leader, too, since party leaders in Norway either have a seat in Parliament or in the government. Navarsete earlier has flared at any challenge to her leadership of the party, but on Tuesday she said “I won’t claw myself into a party that doesn’t want me.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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