The leader of the small Christian Democrats party said Monday that while “there’s room to forgive Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug,” that doesn’t mean either he or his party has confidence in her. And they don’t. Knut Arild Hareide and his small party hold the swing vote in Parliament, and he was blunt with his criticism before they huddled on Monday to seal her fate and possibly topple the government on Tuesday.
After around five hours of meetings on Monday, Hareide announced that his party’s national board, in line with the opposition in Parliament, “does not have confidence in the sitting justice minister.” He sent a clear message to Prime Minister Erna Solberg to come up with some sort of solution before a scheduled vote in Parliament Tuesday morning, in order to prevent her government from falling.
While Solberg has remained silent on the fate of her government that suddenly faces collapse because of Listhaug’s offensive behaviour, several media outlets reported during the weekend that Solberg and all her ministers will resign if faced with a lack of confidence over Listhaug. Hareide has always supported Solberg as prime minister, but claimed on Monday that she “has let (Listhaug’s) Progress Party operate with double communication in the government, and that has plagued the public debate in a negative manner.”
Listhaug’s methods ‘dangerous’
Hareide had also earlier called, before his party officials began their lengthy meeting on Monday, for an end to the “polarizing and divisive rhetoric and behaviour” that characterizes Listhaug’s political style. He demanded a return to “mutual confidence among folks, where we don’t pit groups against each other, where there is confidence between the people and politicians, and among the political parties.”
Hareide called mutual confidence “one of the most fundamental values we have. Call it the glue in our society, call it pure decency.” It explains why “the tone” of political communication “is so important,” he said, and why his party is so concerned about how politicians speak about and with one another.
He suggested that it was “dangerous” to have a justice minister “who questions motives” and who wrote on her Facebook page earlier this month that the only party to have been subjected to a terrorist attack in Norway (Labour) puts terrorists’ rights above national security. Hareide noted that “right-wing extremism is advancing in the Nordic countries, and that it’s in social media that these forces blossom and get their nourishment. It’s this justice minister who has the most responsibility for fighting right-wing extremism in Norway.”
Listhaug ‘created this crisis’
Hareide said that it was “extremely important that the prime minister, when she saw the seriousness of the issue, delivered “an unconditional and clear apology.” He noted that her fellow Conservatives minister Jan Tore Sanner did the same, on behalf of the government, “and there was no doubt he meant what he said.”
“The problem is that the justice minister, who created this crisis after being unrelenting for six days, had to make four attempts on the floor of Parliament to beg pardon,” Hareide said. “That shows that the problem with Listhaug goes deeper than this case alone.”
Norwegian Broadcastig (NRK) had reported earlier in the day how Hareide already has forgiven Listhaug and some of her Progress Party colleagues on seven earlier occasions, after they created “scandal” through offensive remarks just since becoming ministers in Solberg’s coalition government. That’s why Hareide’s patience, and that of his party, seems to have run out. “Knut Arild has given them a last chance a few too many times,” one party source who asked not to be named told NRK. Both Solberg and Progress Party leader Siv Jensen have responded by giving Listhaug more power. That’s not popular with the one centrist party left in Parliament that can give their minority coalition a majority.
The extent of the criticism in Hareide’s prelude to his party’s lengthy party meeting on Monday afternoon surprised several political commentators, and left some predicting the Christian Democrats would support the opposition’s proposal to formally express a lack of confidence in Norway’s justice minister on Tuesday. He questioned whether his party could really believe Listhaug’s apology, when it came so late, or whether they could believe that she will change her ways.
Difficult for all involved
He and his non-socialist Christian Democrats have found themselves in an extremely difficult position, keen to dump Listhaug as justice minister but wanting to retain Solberg as prime minister of a non-socialist government. Solberg herself is also in a squeeze, angry with a minister who has undermined the prime minister’s authority but from a party Solberg has needed to keep her government coalition together. Listhaug’s refusal to resign despite all the criticism against her now threatens not only her position but also those of all her fellow ministers. Voters who re-elected the conservative coalition last fall can likely feel stunned and betrayed as well.
After nearly five hours, the Christian Democrats’ national board ended their meeting on Monday agreeing with all the criticism against Listhaug but reportedly split on whether to vote in favour of a lack of confidence in her because of the risk that poses to Solberg’s government. Hareide and his fellow Members of Parliament then carried on, to decide how to vote when Parliament opens on Tuesday, and then announced they had no confidence in Listhaug.
Hareide insisted that it’s Solberg’s responsibility to try to avoid seeing her government fall on Tuesday. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen said on Monday that she “of course” hoped that the Christian Democrats would not vote in favour of a lack of confidence in Listhaug, “I think that out of consideration to the country that it’s important we move beyond this,” but added that “it’s the prime minister who decides the composition of the government and the prime minister who will answer questions about any lack of confidence. She will do that in Parliament tomorrow.”
NRK also reported that the Conservatives had also called an early meeting of the party’s own MPs, before Parliament opens.