Liv Signe Navarsete, leader of Norway’s crisis-plagued Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp), has not offered to resign her post despite stinging criticism in a comprehensive internal party report. She now seems intent on riding out the latest storm around her, and smoking out those within Sp who leaked details of the crushing evaluation of her leadership.
“This isn’t a witchhunt,” Navarsete claimed to state broadcaster NRK Thursday morning. “It’s rather about trying to get rid of a culture the party can’t live with.” She earlier has said that the leaks have been even more difficult to deal with than the harsh assessment of her own job performance.
Newspaper VG, for example, was already writing about some of the criticism contained in the party’s 80-page internal report 11 days before it was released on Wednesday. The report was written by a specially appointed party commission charged with evaluating why Sp fared so poorly in the September parliamentary election.
Now Navarsete is casting suspicion on all the members of the commission, which already has been sarcastically referred in Norwegian media as Sp’s havarikommisjonen, referring to the state commission by the same name that investigates serious accidents.
Nine persons and one secretary were members of the commission that looked into why Sp logged its worst election result in the party’s history, when it claimed just 5.5 percent of the vote and lost government power. Recent public opinion polls indicate voter support has slipped further during the autumn, and now has support of only around 4.6 percent of Norwegian voters, barely enough to retain representation in parliament.
Commission members evaluated questionnaires sent to hundreds of regional and local party chapters, along with individuals. They also interviewed nearly 30 party officials in depth. Navarsete is upset that the information collected by the commission was leaked to the media.
The leaks “were very serious, because there were few (people) who knew (about the information). This was extremely confidential (information) that was leaked,” Navarsete told NRK.
Some of it, reported VG, included criticism that one of Navarsete’s two deputy leaders, former agriculture minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, directed at “the situation” between Navarsete and Vedum’s fellow deputy Ola Borten Moe, the former oil minister. Norwegian media have given lots of attention to a conflict and power struggle between Navarsete and Moe, which the two have publicly denied exists. Moe, however, resigned his seat in Parliament and continually seemed to torpedo Sp’s carefully crafted pro-environment image by urging aggressive oil and exploration and production.
VG reported that Vedum felt relations between Navarsete and Moe developed in a “negative” direction and that tensions escalated during 2012, taking the focus away from politics and over to conflicts between the appointments of advisers and state secretaries.
“All of those who spoke with the commission, myself included, were assured that everything said would be only for internal use and would be erased later,” Navarsete told NRK, adding that it “felt very uncomfortable” when it ended up going public.
She didn’t seem too worried that now she herself may be contributing to a culture of suspicion with the party, which by all accounts is deeply divided. She appealed to whoever leaked the information to stand forward, in order to halt speculation and suspicion. Vedum agreed that it was important to find out who leaked the information, as did the head of the commission, Bengt Fasteraune.
Meanwhile, other speculation continued over how long Navarsete and the rest of the leadership can hang on their posts given the criticism over how they ran Sp’s disastrous election campaign and how they haven’t gotten along well themselves. Navarsete admitted that it’s no secret now “that cooperation among us three hasn’t always been as good as it should be.”
But she won’t take all the blame. The “theme” of whether Sp would be best-served without the current leadership “came up” at Wednesday’s meeting with the party’s board, Navarsete confirmed to newspaper Aftenposten. But any resignation wouldn’t have involved “just me (as leader), but the leadership itself: Me, Ola and Trygve.” She claimed no one suggested she should resign herself. One media commentator later suggested that if Navarsete survives until the next convention and beyond, she would be like a “politician with nine lives.”