Per Sandberg, another outspoken politician from the Progress Party who has angered and offended opponents, was named to run the justice ministry following Sylvi Listhaug’s surprise resignation Tuesday morning. Sandberg’s appointment is only temporary, though: “Anything else would be another provocation,” claimed one political commentator after one of the most extraordinary mornings in Norway’s political history.
Sandberg is known for being one of the only politicians apart from Listhaug who has managed to enrage the normally mild-mannered Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the Christian Democrats. Hareide, who could have forced Listhaug’s resignation on Tuesday if she hadn’t quit voluntarily, was the target of a tirade by Sandberg in 2015 that broke barriers for political rhetoric in Norway, until Sandberg’s party colleague Listhaug broke them again last week. Her accusation, posted on Facebook 12 days ago, that the Labour Party put the rights of terrorists higher than national security set off an unparalleled political uproar in Norway that threatened to topple the government. It culminated Tuesday with her resignation under severe pressure.
Now Sandberg, who already serves as fisheries minister and will continue to hold that post as well, has been tapped to succeed Listhaug, “until further notice.” His official appointment came during an extraordinary Council of State held at the Royal Palace, according to a government press release issued at midday.
Sandberg has, like Listhaug, been a vocal critic of Islam, immigration and integration. After a hefty clash live on national radio even before the refugee influx began nearly three years ago, he provoked Hareide so badly that the Christian Democrats literally bellowed that his patience had worn thing. “You’ve made a big mistake,” he yelled, “enough is enough, Per Sandberg! Now you need to calm yourself down!”
They both did, and since joining the government as fisheries minister, Sandberg has mostly ceased his verbal assaults on political opponents. “We’re ready to give him a chance,” Olaug Bollestad, deputy leader of the Christian Democrats, told state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday afternoon.
Hareide most surprised by Listhaug’s resignation
Hareide, meanwhile, was among the most surprised upon hearing Tuesday morning that Listhaug had resigned. He told NRK that Prime Minister Erna Solberg had not tipped him after being told of Listhaug’s resignation plan late Monday night herself.
The leader of the centrist Christian Democrats, who’d announced Monday evening that he’d form a majority to vote for a lack of confidence in Listhaug as justice minister, said he was riding the metro (T-bane) to work Tuesday morning “when someone sitting close by said, ‘something has happened.’ I checked my mobile phone and read that the justice minister, at her own initiative, had chosen to withdraw.”
Hareide wouldn’t say how far he’d planned to go in the move to unseat both Listhaug and possible the entire government on Tuesday. He said he thought it was correct of Listhaug to resign after making such serious and unfounded accusations against the Labour Party that it set off a political uproar that threatened to topple the government.
Relief and more irritation
Reaction to Listhaug’s resignation in Parliament was a mix of relief and lingering irritation following the harsh rhetoric that even peppered her own announcement. She compared Norwegian politics to a barnehage (children’s day care center), ridiculed several top politicians and complained that her own freedom of expression had been curtailed. “I don’t think she’s learned or understood very much from the debate” over her conduct, said Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former prime minister from the Christian Democrats. “This isn’t about freedom of expression, it’s about decency.”
Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, who was among those most offended by Listhaug’s accusation that his party placed the rights of terrorists above national security, agreed that Listhaug still didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the trouble she caused. He claimed it wasn’t worthy of a government minister to refer to Norwegian politics as a children’s day care center, and noted that she blames everyone else but herself. “She no longer had the confidence of a majority in Parliament,” Støre told NRK. “Then it’s correct to resign.”
Karin Bjørkhaug, a member of the Christian Democrats’ national board, said she was “enormously relieved … it’s Listhaug herself who created this situation, and I think it’s only right that she take the consequences.”
Support from back home
Her supporters within the Progress Party were sorry to see her go, though, with Øyvind Natvik of her home region of rural Møre og Romsdal suggesting the flag should be lowered to half-mast. Frank Sve, leader of the party’s local chapter, claimed Listhaug is “one of the best politicians Norway has,” and he was certain she’ll now be “highly visible” as a Member of Parliament.
Others hoped the media would stop giving her so much attention. Her chief adviser and social media expert Espen Teigen, meanwhile, resigned as well on Tuesday. He admitted to having written the offensive accusation about Labour on Listhaug’s Facebook page and said it was “normal” for ministerial advisers to leave when their ministers do. He repeated Listhaug’s claims that she’d been subjected to a “witchhunt” and labelled the entire political uproar they created as “absurd.”
“In all honesty,” he told newspaper Dagbladet, “it will be good to lower shoulders and take some Easter holiday a bit early.”