Former government minister Marit Arnstad has resisted earlier calls to take over as leader of Norway’s deeply troubled Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp), but now she’s showing signs of answering them. Arnstad has told reporters that she’s “flattered” by all the suggestions from party members that she’s best-suited to get the small but influential party back on track, and she’s no longer outright rejecting her candidacy for the party’s top spot.
As the party’s national board gathered on Tuesday to address the party’s leadership crisis, Arnstad was emerging as the candidate with the most respect and support. She’s seen as a more neutral force after bitter conflicts within the current leadership trio that now may all be ordered to put their positions up for a vote. Embattled top leader Liv Signe Navarsete announced over the weekend that she will resign her post at an extraordinary national meeting this spring. Navarsete’s two deputies, Ola Borten Moe and Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, face calls to put their posts up for a new vote as well.
Tensions have run high between Navarsete and Moe, while Vedum seemed to stay out of the power struggle and has been viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Navarsete. Now he faces competition from Arnstad, who’s a party veteran with long experience in national politics at the highest levels, as a minister in earlier coalition governments that included the Center Party, and as a Member of Parliament.
Arnstad, age 51, hails from the Trøndelag counties, though, as does Moe. There’s already rumbling among the rank and file over the prospect of two top leaders from Trøndelag if Moe survives the leadership battle. That goes against the district-friendly party’s mantra that power and resources should be more broadly spread over the entire country.
Support for Arnstad is nonetheless so high that many Center Party members may swallow a geographic concentration from Trøndelag if she agrees to be an actual candidate for party leader. There’s also the possibility that the controversial Moe, lampooned in local media on Tuesday for having Machiavellian tendencies, will be booted out of the party leadership altogether.
County leaders against Moe
Fully 12 of the party’s 15 county leaders told newspaper Dagbladet on Sunday that they think Moe should resign along with Navarsete. While Moe is viewed as a divisive force, Arnstad is believed to be unifying as is Vedum. Odd Roger Enoksen, also a former government minister for the Center Party, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday that he thinks both Arnstad and Vedum are good candidates.
“Arnstad is my favorite, though, because she has shown herself to be a visionary politician for a long time,” Enoksen told Dagsavisen. “Marit has a huge capacity for hard work and is one of the biggest talents the party has had.”
Others still aren’t sure Arnstad will take on the responsibility of being party leader, and may insist on simply being leader of its bloc in Parliament instead. She’s said “no” too many times before, and some political analysts think her comments about respecting the “process” of finding a new leader were interpreted too broadly.
It’s ultimately up to the party’s board to decide whether all party posts should be put up for grabs or just some. “I think it’s natural (to start with a fresh slate),” Arnstad herself told newspaper Aftenposten. She stressed that doesn’t mean everyone should resign, though, adding that there are many who should stay on and rebuild the party before the next electins.