Leaders of all three government parties huddled Monday night in a crisis meeting at the residence of Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Their goal was to lay a plan for what many are already calling “D-Day” for their Conservatives-led coalition, which risks collapse Tuesday morning when a majority in Parliament is poised to vote that they lack confidence in Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug.
Listhaug, of the right-wing Progress Party, was herself at the crisis meeting at Solberg’s home in Parkveien, just behind the Royal Palace. Photographers from newspaper VG and state broadcaster NRK were among those capturing pictures of a grim-faced Listhaug leaving the meeting with her chief adviser Espen Teigen.
‘We only talked together…’
Teigen has orchestrated much of Listhaug’s provocations in recent years while she’s served as both immigration minister and now justice minister. He played a key role in publishing a post on Listhaug’s Facebook page 12 days ago that accused the Norwegian Labour Party of caring more about the rights of terrorists than Norway’s national security. That inflamed not only Labour and the rest of the opposition in Parliament, but also hundreds of survivors and families of victims of a right-wing extremist’s own terrorist attack in Norway on July 22, 2011 that killed 77 people.
On Monday afternoon, the centrist Christian Democrats who have long supported Erna Solberg as prime minister joined the opposition in declaring a lack of support for Listhaug as justice minister. The Christian Democrats found Listhaug’s Facebook post so offensive and unfair that they can no longer accept her as the government minister in charge of preparedness, immigration, law and order.
Hans Andreas Limi, leader of the Progress Party’s delegation in Parliament, told NRK as he left Solberg’s residence that the top government politicians “have only talked together to prepare the debate in Parliament tomorrow, and then we’ll take if from there. It’s tomorrow that counts.”
‘Wait and see’
It all amounts to a stunning turn of events for both Solberg, who has been enjoying strong showings in public opinion polls, and her government, which just recently expanded to include the Liberal Party. Voters cleared the way for Solberg to maintain her coalition with the Progress Party just last fall, while the opposition Labour has been in crisis since and has tumbled in the polls. It would seem to defy public opinion if Labour suddenly formed a new left-center coalition.
Limi wouldn’t say whether the Progress Party has laid an alternative plan if the non-socialist government feels forced to resign as a result of the lack of confidence vote in his party fellow Listhaug. Many have found it remarkable that Progress, which had tried for 40 years to finally win government power, would be willing to walk away from it simply in order to back Listhaug.
“We just have to relate to the fact that there is now a majority for the lack of confidence vote,” Limi said. “We have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. I don’t think we should mount more speculation now.”
Speculation was rising nonetheless that the government parties may “sacrifice” Listhaug after all by forcing her to resign. Some commentators and, not least, Progress Party members don’t think Listhaug is more important to the party than government power. Some members of the Conservatives and Liberals have thought that for a long time, and are likely to hold Listhaug responsible for ruining their government coalition.
Listhaug out, Christian Democrats in?
“Given the choices Erna has, either to resign or force through a government with Listhaug in the same position as now, it’s best to continue without Listhaug,” Leif Gøran Wasskog of the Liberals’ Finnmark chapter told NRK.
He firmly feels that “the best solution to save the political project is to let Listhaug go.” He also thinks it would be much easier to even form a new expanded four-party majority government by inviting the Christian Democrats to join if Listhaug is sent back to Parliament. While she may take on a martyr role, challenge Progress Party leader Siv Jensen or even break away and form her own party based on an anti-immigration platform, Solberg’s coalition project could move forward and accomplish much of their program.
“The best thing would be if Listhaug herself took the initiative to resign (as justice minister),” said Jan Henrik Nygård, the Liberals’ leader in Sogn og Fjordane. “I think that would be a solution many would like. If Listhaug won’t do that, Erna should replace her.”