Small party holds big new wildcard

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Another small political party has suddenly emerged this week as the joker on the non-socialist side of the government drama heading into the fall national elections. As the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) gathered in Trondheim for their national meeting this weekend, their leader Knut Arild Hareide was being viewed as a new potential government minister even though he may not want the job.

Knut Arild Hareide, the former business executive who now leads the Christian Democrats party, suddenly seems to have an opportunity of becoming a government minister even though he indicated he'd prefer spending more time as a father. He was addressing his party faithful at their national meeting in Trondheim on Thursday. PHOTO: Kristelig Folkeparti

Knut Arild Hareide, the former business executive who now leads the Christian Democrats party, suddenly seems to have an opportunity of becoming a government minister even though he indicated he’d prefer spending more time as a father. He was addressing his party faithful at their national meeting in Trondheim on Thursday. PHOTO: Kristelig Folkeparti

Hareide surprised many, not least some of his party colleagues, when news broke that he wasn’t sure he wanted to take on the demanding job of a statsråd (government minister) if KrF (and it’s a big “if”) is called on to help form a non-socialist coalition government after the September 9 election. Party leaders almost always become government ministers, even prime minister, if their party wins government power.

But Hareide, who’d been a long-time bachelor before finally marrying last year, recently became a father and he told magazine VG Helg that he would prioritize his new family life ahead of a ministerial position, if he has to make a choice. “For me, it’s important to say that there are some priorities that are firm … so there’s no guarantee I’ll go into the government,” Hareide said.

The most important thing, Hareide claimed, was for KrF itself to win some government power. It was less important, according to Hareide, exactly who would represent KrF in the government.

That set off a wave of political chatter on Wednesday, not only over the novelty that a man seemed willing to sacrifice a powerful job for the sake of his family, but also over what it would mean to cooperation among Norway’s non-socialist parties, and what form a potential non-socialist government coalition might take.

Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party (Høyre) that’s widely expected to lead such a coalition or hold government power alone, seemed disappointed. She was a government minister in an earlier center-right government when she had small children and expected Hareide to be able to handle the pressure, too. She thought it would be “best” if Hareide as party leader joined the government if his party does. The “simplest and most practical,” she said, is that all leaders of parties that take on government power sit in the government themselves. “But this is something I’m sure we would find a good solution for,” Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten.

The bigger question is whether KrF really has a stab at government power at all, but many Norwegian political commentators and analysts now seem to think it does. The party only holds around 5 percent of the vote, but may provide the swing votes needed to cement a non-socialist coalition. In return it can expect a proportional number of ministerial posts, even though it can seem undemocratic for a party with such little voter support to wind up with such powerful positions. It’s been happening for the past eight years with the current, troubled left-center coalition, with both the Socialist Left (SV) and the Center Party (Sp) running important ministries after winning just 6.1 and 6.2 percent of the vote respectively in the last national election in 2009. Both have even less support now, often below 5 percent, according to recent public opinion polls.

Speculation was also flying in Norwegian media over just what a non-socialist coalition might look like at this point. Solberg’s Conservatives and the more-conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) are the two biggest non-socialist parties and have been getting along fairly well lately, but some analysts don’t think they’ll win enough votes to get a majority of seats in parliament by themselves. That means they’d need another party to join them, but Hareide confirmed this week that his party won’t go into a government with Frp, because they differ too much on several issues. Frp is far more market liberal, for example, than KrF, which still wants to control alcohol sales and allow the farming lobby to keep food prices high through strict government regulation.

Elections analyst Svein Tore Marthinsen sees three main alternatives if the current left-center coalition loses in September and the non-socialists win: A coalition made up of the Conservatives, KrF and the Liberal Party (Venstre), a coalition of just the Conservatives and the Progress Party (Frp), or the Conservatives on their own.

“I don’t think the Conservatives and the Progress Party will get a majority alone, though,” Marthinsen told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I don’t think the voters will move so much (to the right).” He sees KrF as being in a decisive position.

That was good news for Hareide as he gathered his troops in Trondheim. They’d be debating family policies, ideology and principles and concrete issues (external link) such as whether more of Norway’s small municipalities should merge, and how Norway can better ensure the safety of its residents. But the main issue will be how to move from being a small party in opposition, to a slightly bigger party in position.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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