UPDATED: Speculation and scenarios were swirling Wednesday after one of Norway’s two government coalition parties threatened to withdraw if forced to accept responsibility for thousands more refugees from Syria. The Liberal Party, one of the coalition’s two support parties in parliament, quickly offered to join the government if the Progress Party bows out, but the Liberals don’t have enough seats in parliament to ward off a government collapse.
The leaders of most all the parties represented in parliament were otherwise downplaying the threat posed Wednesday morning by the Progress Party’s deputy leader, Per Sandberg, when he said his party may pull out of its current two-party coalition with the Conservatives. State broadcaster NRK was interviewing many party officials live as they headed into what’s expected to be a final round of negotiations over how many more refugees Norway should accept, and they all tried to fend off Sandberg’s ultimatum.
Up to Solberg to decide
Even Sandberg’s own party leader, Progress Party boss Siv Jensen who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, later told reporters that she viewed his comments during a live debate on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday morning as “reflections” as he simply “thought out loud.” She said she was looking forward to learn what the negotiations on refugee numbers would lead to, and added that there “was no debate within the party” on whether it should withdraw from the government.
The party officials also noted that only the prime minister, Conservatives’ leader Erna Solberg, can call for a vote of confidence (kabinettspørsmål) in the parliament and most agree that’s the last thing she wants to do. Solberg has long sought a compromise on the thorny refugee issue that would allow her government to remain in power. She was upbeat Wednesday morning, telling reporters that she thought her government “can live well with the result” of the negotiations over refugee numbers. “In a minority government, you have to live with proposals you don’t always agree with,” Solberg told NRK.
Solberg would be in a tough spot, however, if she were to lose her government partner that won 16.3 percent of the vote in the last national elections. Her Conservatives won 26.8 percent, while the Liberals won only 5.2 percent. Together, the Conservatives and the Liberals would have only slightly more than Labour alone, which remains the largest single party in parliament after winning 30.8 percent of the last vote.
Partnerships in play
If Labour were to team up again with its former left-center government partners, or other opposition parties, it could form a new government. On the other hand, if Solberg were to go it alone without the Progress Party but with the Liberals, she may continue to win majority support on various issues from both the Progress Party and the current coalition’s other support party, the Christian Democrats, which won 5.6 percent of the vote.
The various partnerships would play a critical, if unpredictable, role. Meanwhile the possibility remained that the Progress Party will remain in the government even with a demand to accept more refugees. Numbers being bandied about in the media on Wednesday, based on leaks, included 8,000 (instead of 10,000) refugees to be taken in over a three- (instead of two-) year period. The Conservatives may be able to live with that and convince the Progress Party to do the same.
Sandberg, meanwhile, is known for not always representing a majority within his own party. The Liberals’ leader, Trine Skei Grande, said she was standing by “to help the country get a new government if the Progress Party pulls out.”