‘Dark day’ for the government

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Top politician Per Sandberg’s “half-hearted” apology for what’s been called his “unprecedented verbal assault” on the Christian Democrats was threatening his own government on Friday. The Christian Democrats’ leader wouldn’t accept the apology, and a grass-roots movement was growing to withdraw the party’s support for Sandberg’s Progress Party in government.

Per Sandberg, a deputy leader of the Progress Party, just before he launched into another noisy radio debate on NRK Thursday evening. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Per Sandberg, a deputy leader of the Progress Party, just before he launched into another noisy radio debate on NRK Thursday evening. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

“It’s a dark day for the (government) cooperation,” the usually mild-mannered leader of the Christian Democrats, Knut Arild Hareide, declared Thursday evening after Sandberg went on the attack once again during a heated radio debate. The debate was over Sandberg’s verbal assault Thursday morning that shocked not only Hareide and his party but many others including some of Sandberg’s own party fellows.

Sandberg, who accused the Christian Democrats of being responsible for Islamic extremists’ mass-murders, later apologized but with so many conditions that Hareide called it “half-hearted.” And then Sandberg, who serves as a deputy leader of the Progress Party, launched into another tirade that some political commentators described as “irrational” during an evening radio debate on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Several political commentators said they'd never seen Knut Arild Hareide so angry as he was with Per Sandberg after several run-ins on state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Several political commentators said they’d never seen Knut Arild Hareide so angry as he was with Per Sandberg after several run-ins on state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Hareide was furious, finally cutting off Sandberg by declaring live on the air that “enough’s enough” and telling Sandberg that he had lost patience with him. Hareide fumed that Sandberg had made “a huge mistake,” and that he personally was “deeply disappointed.” A professor in rhetoric and verbal communication at the University of Oslo, Kjell Lars Berge, told NRK Friday morning that the heated exchange was “without precedent … for a political debate in Norway.”

Hareide later noted how Sandberg continued to claim that Norway’s multi-cultural society was “bankrupt,” meaning, in Hareide’s view, “that he’s saying in reality that many people are not welcome here. We need a debate on how integration can be better, but Sandberg sidetracked that completely.”

The uproar continued throughout the day on Friday, with many members of the Christian Democrats questioning how the party could continue to support a party co-led by Sandberg. The two parties already have had a falling-out over the plight of asylum children in Norway and they long have clashed over immigration issues. Hareide said it would now be even more demanding to cooperate with the Progress Party.

The question, Hareide noted, is whether Sandberg “is just a lonesome dove from Senja,” known for occasional outbursts on heated issues, or whether he spouts the party line. All eyes were on Progress Party leader and Finance Minister Siv Jensen, who said Thursday that Sandberg “had gone too far.”

Jensen: Apology ‘good enough’
Jensen said later, though, that she thought Sandberg’s apology was both “unconditional” and “good enough.” Hareide clearly didn’t share that assessment, and wasn’t reassured by Jensen’s statements Friday morning that “it’s important to stress that the Christian Democrats and the Progress Party have different views on immigration policy. Everyone knows that.”

She also said, though, that the party values its cooperation agreements with the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party and that “all are best served” if the minority government’s support agreements remain intact. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has also stepped into the fray, saying she was glad Sandberg apologized.

Some political analysts have suggested that Sandberg sounded off in order to retain support from immigration skeptics after several public opinion polls have indicated that the party has lost almost half its voters since the election in in 2013 and is desperate to win them back.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund