Sylvi Listhaug, known as Norway’s most controversial politician because of her inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants and Muslims, almost brought down the government last spring and was forced to resign as justice minister. That likely would have caused problems for any politician’s career but not in the conservative Progress Party. Now she’s risen to its highest leadership levels and says she’ll continue to speak out about immigration and integration policy.
“I will continue to be myself, I can’t be anyone else,” the ever-smiling Listhaug told reporters at a press conference after the party’s central board named her as the party’s “1st deputy leader” under party leader Siv Jensen. Listhaug succeeds the almost-as-controversial Per Sandberg, who also had to recently resign for violating government security rules.
Ketil Solvik-Olsen, the Progress Party’s former transport minister who resigned last week to spend a year in the US with his doctor wife and family, will continue to serve from afar as the party’s “2nd deputy leader.” Jensen claimed she was pleased with her new team, which is likely to continue after the party formally votes on its leadership at next spring’s annual national meeting.
Political commentators note that Listhaug, who’s ascension had been predicted, has now positioned herself to eventually take over for Jensen herself. While she infuriates the opposition parties in Parliament as well as other conservative but moderate politicians and voters, Listhaug is loved by the right-wingers within Progress and anti-immigration advocates. They like her sassy style and provocations. The question is whether her tendency to polarize will eventually lead to her downfall.
“Sylvi has a strong engagement within this area (immigration and integration) and she is also very well-known for it,” Jensen said. “I view that as a strength for the party.” Not least, perhaps, because without those viewed as being the right-wing populists within Progress, the party can lose voters to the Conservatives.
Listhaug was criticized just last week for joking, laughing and taking a selfie with party colleague Per-Willy Amundsen just before an otherwise solemn parliamentary hearing on the government’s failure to boost security and preparedness in accordance with expectations. She ended up having to apologize for her behaviour, four months after she also had to apologize to the entire Parliament after making offensive remarks about the Labour Party on social media.
She claims she has shown that she also “can cooperate, both within the government and in Parliament.” She said at Monday’s press conference that she often thinks that what she says gets twisted or taken out of proportion. She just thinks it’s “important to be clear” when expressing her opinions.
Listhaug, who returned to her seat in Parliament after resigning as justice minister, said she now looks forward to travel around the country and also speak about health policy, since she now sits on the Parliament’s health committee. Government colleagues are nervous, with MP Abid Raja from the non-socialist Liberal Party promising that he will challenge her when she speaks negatively about Muslims and immigrants as a group.