Center Party as divided as ever

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Norway’s former oil minister Ola Borten Moe was fighting for his political life over the weekend, as party fellows kept quarreling over whether they still want him as a deputy leader of the small Center Party. The leaders of nearly half its county chapters in Norway want to dump him, and the deeply troubled party seems as divided as ever.

Ola Borten Moe, often seen as a tall and solemn young man in public, is revealed as a partying politician intent on attaining power in the new book by VG's political editor Elisabeth Skarsbø Moen. She has also written several other political biographies and covered Norwegian politics for years. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Ola Borten Moe was once viewed as the “crown prince” of the rural-oriented Center Party. Now he’s fighting for his political life to hang on to his role as a deputy leader. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Nine county chapters think Moe is part of the problem instead of the solution to their years of internal strife and, most recently, their worst election results ever. Former Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete felt compelled to finally step down last month after years of power struggles with Moe, and both Moe and the party’s other deputy leader, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, had to put their positions up for a new vote as well.

Now Vedum, the party’s former agriculture minister in the last left-center coalition government, seems assured of succeeding Navarsete after the party membership’s top choice, Marit Arnstad, turned down the job. Arnstad now appears keen to be the party’s leader in Parliament and Moe wants to continue as a deputy leader, when all the leadership positions come up for a vote at an extraordinary national meeting later this spring.

Norwegian media remains full of stories nearly every day on the party drama. Moe went on national radio just before the weekend and promised he’d cooperate not only with the new party leadership but also with other center-oriented parties (the Christian Democrats and the Liberals) in parliament, claiming that it was important the small parties “with similar values” teamed up. Together, they conceivably could bring down the government on disputed issues. At the same time, though, Moe also supported his former coalition partners in government, the Labour Party and the Socialist Left party (SV). It was the poor results of both SV and the Center Party in last fall’s national elections that caused its loss of the coalition’s eight-year hold on government power.

But Moe faces tough opposition not only from the 96 percent of Norwegian voters who don’t support his farmer-friendly party that fights hard for protectionism and government subisides, but also, reported newspaper Aftenposten, from nine of the party’s 20 local chapters. Included among those who want to boot Moe out of party leadership altogether is the Østfold chapter in southeastern Norway, which is supporting several other candidates for Moe’s post.

Moe also faces opposition from chapters in Vestfold, Buskerud, Oslo, Akershus, Telemark, Finnmark, Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane, all of which have expressed skepticism in letting him hang on to his party post. They’re all trying to find other candidates to present to the party’s election committee, now charged with coming up with a roster before the extraordinary meeting.

Arnstad, meanwhile, came out in support of Moe during the weekend, causing some political commentators to claim that she, Moe and Vedum have quietly cooked up a deal to ensure their leadership “troika.” Arnstad sees no problem with the Trøndelag countries, home to both herself and Moe, and Hedmark County, home to Vedum, dominating party leadership. “Ola has said he’s still a candidate,” Arnstad told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Saturday. “I’m positive towards that.”

Meanwhile, those who view the Center Party as an overly protectionist party that has had far too much power in Norwegian politics over the years, wonder whether its ongoing conflicts may finally lead to its self-destruction. Recent public opinion polls have seen its support slide further.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund