Disputed party heir fights on

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Ola Borten Moe’s Center Party fellows seem to either love him or hate him, and even though a majority fall into the latter category, Moe isn’t giving up his battle to retain political influence. He’s widely seen as one of the main reasons the party is now so deeply divided, but Moe made it clear on Friday that he won’t gracefully step aside for the sake of party unity.

The Center Party's deputy leader Ola Borten Moe arrived with a black eye at the party's board meeting on Wednesday, but claimed he'd been battered by last week's storm in Trøndelag, not the storm of criticism directed at the party's leadership. PHOTO: Cornelius Poppe / NTB Scanpix

Ola Borten Moe of the Center Party made a memorable appearance with a black eye last fall in connection with a party board meeting, claiming he’d been battered by a storm in his home district of Trøndelag. His bruised face has since healed, but the party hasn’t as it continues to be deeply divided, with himself at the center of the unrest. PHOTO: Cornelius Poppe / NTB Scanpix

“I have lived with and for this party for 20 years,” Moe said on the popular morning talkshow, Politisk kvarter, on NRK P2 early Friday. “I want to stick around, and I love the party.”

He chose to go on the offensive Friday instead of conceding to the fact that the Center Party’s own elections committee had to announce on Thursday that they couldn’t muster enough support to make him sole candidate as first deputy when leadership elections are held on April 7. The election committees of political parties in Norway normally set up a roster of candidates that the rank-and-file then formally approve, but now Moe faces a run-off election for the first-deputy post against Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, who was the choice of a majority on the election committee. The committee is charged with proposing new leaders for the deeply troubled Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) after its most recent leader, Liv Signe Navarsete, resigned and is now off on sick leave following a lengthy power struggle with Moe.

The committee’s majority wanted to put forth a slate consisting of Tryvge Slagsvold Vedum as Navarsete’s successor, Tvinnereim as first deputy leader and Janne Sjelmo Nordås  as second deputy leader. A vocal minority on the committee, however, agitated so strongly in favour of Moe that the majority compromised by allowing party members to decide between Moe and Tvinnereim.

Former ‘crown prince’ won’t abdicate
Navarsete had said in January that she was quitting in an effort to end leadership conflicts and bring some peace to the small party that caters to farming and rural interests. Instead, the infighting and power struggles within the party, which only holds around 4-5 percent of the vote, have continued with most of the storm swirling around Moe.

He once saw himself as the party’s crown prince, as the grandson of one of its only prime ministers, Per Borten. Moe always uses the “Borten” in his name, as if to remind rivals and supporters alike of his legacy, and he held the powerful post of Oil & Energy Minister in the last left-center coalition government, if controversially. His pro-oil policies angered many party fellows who instead favour a more environmentally friendly profile, but it was mostly his perceived arrogance that has alienated him so badly.

Several of Moe’s opponents claim he’s still steering a solo course, often in defiance of the party line. Three county leaders of the party’s youth organization claimed this week that there’s great distance, for example, between Moe’s standpoints and the party’s on both environmental and European issues. And that’s what often got him into trouble with Navarsete.

He admitted on NRK’s P2 program Friday that he’ll “be sad” if he ends up being voted out of the party’s leadership on April 7. He added, though, that he intends to remain an active party members, “roll up my sleeves and, as a member, contribute towards helping the Center Party grow.” That, he suggested, can happen through new alliances with both the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti) and the Liberal Party (Venstre), two other small centrist parties in opposition in parliament.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund