Colleagues in Norway’s Conservative Party said they were surprised by the resignation this week of Kristian Tonning Riise as leader of the party’s youth organization Unge Høyre. Riise, who will continue as an elected Member of Parliament, called the international “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment a “wake-up call,” and felt he hadn’t set a good example himself in social situations.
“When I look back on my youth,” the 29-year-old politician wrote on his Facebook page late Wednesday night, “there’s a lot I’m proud of but also several things I wish I hadn’t done, things I shouldn’t have meant or said and relationships I shouldn’t have entered into.” He said he felt he hadn’t been sufficiently aware of his leadership role, suggesting he may have abused his power.
The “MeToo” campaign has raised consciousness of sexual harassment in Norway and become a major theme within political parties, along with many other areas of society. Riise is the latest in a string of Norwegian politicians to step aside in the midst of the campaign against sexual harassment. The Labour Party’s deputy leader, Trond Giske, resigned his party posts and faces an investigation in numerous complaints filed against him, while a high-ranking Member of Parliament for the Progress Party, Ulf Leirstein, withdrew from his party posts after sending pornographic photos to young male party members. Some local politicians are also in trouble for allegedly abusing their power in return for sexual favours.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Riise, who will turn 30 in October, had already told the board of the Conservative Party’s youth organization that he would not be a candidate for re-election. He nonetheless opted to resign ahead of the Unge Høyre‘s next election, admitting that he’d been “confronted” with reports that other members of the organization had “reacted to my behaviour” on “several occasions.” He admitted to displaying some “poor judgement,” without going into detail.
Maria Barstad Sanner, secretary general of Unge Høyre, stressed on NRK’s national radio Thursday morning that neither she nor the organization as a whole had received any formal complaints about Riise’s behaviour, but there had been reports of concern over his conduct.
“He’s been confronted with various episodes and behaviour, and I have been clear with him about what’s expected of him as a leader,” Sanner told NRK. She confirmed that he had decided to resign his top post in the organization and that she supported the decision. She also urged anyone who may have been offended to contact her. “We are an organization where it shall be safe to express concern,” Sanner said. “Everyone should feel that they’re taken seriously.”
Riise’s resignation surprised party colleagues who’d welcomed him as a newly elected Member of Parliament after the September election. “I’ve never considered him to be anything other than a very nice young man,” Lise Berger Svenkerud, the Conservatives’ leader in Riise’s home county of Hedmark, told NRK. She added that Riise’s behaviour “has never been an issue here in Hedmark Høyre.”
Anne-Mette Øvrum, leader of the party’s women’s forum in Hedmark, was also surprised, saying she wasn’t aware of any warnings or episodes involving Riise. They both said they still had “full confidence” in Riise as a Member of Parliament, where Trond Helleland, leader of the Conservatives’ delegation in Parliament, said Riise would remain a member of the Parliament’s committee on labour and social issues. John Ragnar Aarseth, secretary general of the party, told NRK that the party itself hadn’t received any warnings about Riise’s behaviour.
Riise will be replaced by Unge Høyre‘s first deputy leader, Sandra Bruflot, who will serve until the organization’s national meeting in June.