Norway’s Sami Parliament (Sametinget) is in the midst of high-level political turmoil. The Labour Party politician who took over as president just before Christmas wound up at the center of a major power struggle within her own party, and is now clinging to her post by leaving Labour and firing Labour’s vice-president who was due to succeed her.
It was a turbulent weekend for the parliament located in Karasjok, where the legislative body is meant to promote the interests of Norway’s indigenous Sami population. The political storm inside the building and within its delegation from Labour seems as fierce as the weather outside has been this winter.
The latest drama erupted on Saturday, after Sametinget’s president, Vibeke Larsen, faced losing her post after less than two months in office. She had taken over the presidency after an earlier power struggle unseated Aili Keskitalo from the rival party Norske Samers Riksforbund (NSR) in a lack of confidence vote over the parliament’s budget.
It was Larsen’s Labour Party at the time that had called for a vote of confidence in the budget, and a majority voted against Keskitalo. It didn’t take long before Larsen, though, also ran into major criticism, not least over her inability to speak samisk, the Sami language, and her decision to hold the Sami Parliament’s annual televised New Year’s address in Norwegian.
Larsen humiliated at Labour meeting Saturday
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) now reports that serious dissension within Larsen’s own Labour Party faction at Sametinget continued as well. It culminated on Saturday at a dramatic nomination meeting over who should be the party’s new presidential candidate in the upcoming September election. Larsen, from Narvik in Northern Norway, ended up being voted out in favour of her party colleague Ronny Wilhelmsen, who also had been serving as Larsen’s vice-president. NRK reported that Wilhelmsen, who lives in Alta, won 21 votes at Labour’s extraordinary political meeting held in Lakselv on Saturday, compared to Larsen’s 17.
The next election for the Sami Parliament will be held in line with Norway’s own national parliamentary elections, and preparations for it had also revealed the dissension within Labour’s Sami faction late last year. Helga Pedersen, who has held national posts with the Norwegian Labour Party and served as a government minister in Jens Stoltenberg’s government, had floated her candidacy for Sametinget president in 2017. Pedersen withdrew, however, after advising against Labour’s controversial local power grab in December and not being heard.
Larsen, humiliated by the lack of support this past weekend from her own party after just six weeks as president, initially said she would thus resign in March. “I must note that I have received a quite large vote of lack of confidence against me,” Larsen told NRK Sápmi, NRK’s Sami radio channel. “That applies to both my engagement as president but also as first candidate from the Vesthavet voter precinct. I will report to the Sami Parliament in March that I will resign.”
On Sunday, though, Larsen changed her mind. She told local newspaper Ságat and NRK that she had fired Wilhelmsen: “He went along with the lack of confidence vote against me. There must be confidence between a vice-president and a president.”
She went on to say that she also resigned her membership in the Labour Party right after Saturday’s extrardinary meeting in Lakselv. “I won’t accept being treated in that manner,” she said. “You can put up with a lot, but not that.”
That leaves her an independent politician with no ties to any of the parties represented in the Sami Parliament. She’s hanging on as president, though, which means she’ll likely hold the role when the Sami celebrate the 100th anniversary of their first national gathering on their national day, February 6. King Harald V is due to attend the celebrations in Trondheim, now amid lots of political turmoil.
Asked where she’ll stand politically at Sametinget, Larsen said she hadn’t thought that far, but that it wouldn’t be on Labour’s side. She accused Labour of “using and discarding” people, “especially women.” It remained unclear who would serve as Larsen’s new vice-president after she fired Wilhelmsen, who remains Labour’s candidate to ultimately take over Larsen’s job at the September election.