Christian Democrats leader Knut Arild Hareide needed a miracle at his party’s national meeting on Friday, and he didn’t get it. After setting off weeks of political drama, his flock voted against his call to team up with the Labour and Center parties, and opted to join Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives-led government coalition instead.
The vote in favour of remaining on the non-socialist side of Norwegian politics saved Solberg’s government from falling, and blocked Labour from taking over. As many heaved a collective sigh of relief when a government crisis was avoided, emotions were running high among the Christian Democrats and Hareide was expected to resign as party leader.
“This has been a long journey, but now the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) have spoken,” Hareide said. “The party has chosen its direction, to seek government power with the Solberg coalition.”
It currently consists of Solberg’s Conservatives, the Progress Party and the Liberal Party, and will gain a majority in Parliament if government negotiations succeed as expected. Hareide had long supported Solberg as prime minister himself, but refused to take his party into a government with Progress, on the basis their politics were simply far too different. Hareide himself had also felt personally offended by top Progress Party politicians Sylvi Listhaug and Per Sandberg.
Both Listhaug and Sandberg are gone as ministers, forced to resign over various other offenses. Hareide’s likely successor as party leader, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, is willing to work with Solberg’s coalition, including its Progress Party members who now mostly include more moderate politicians than its most right-wing, anti-immigration members.
Tearful concession speech
A majority of others in the Christian Democrats also were clearly willing to work with Solberg and join her government. A total of 98 delegates to its national meeting on Friday voted to seek government cooperation with the Conservatives, Progress and the Liberals, while 90 voted for Hareide’s proposal to seek formation of a new government with Labour and Center. Two delegates delivered blank ballots.
Hareide had tears in his eyes as he addressed the party after voting results were clear: “To all of you who are disappointed, and I must include myself: KrF’s soul doesn’t lie in who we cooperate with, but in our politics.”
Hareide also chose to praise his two deputy leaders Ropstad and Olaug Bollestad, both of whom had disagreed with his proposal to turn left and join the socialist side. “I don’t have a bad word to say about either of you, neither as people or party colleagues. You have worked hard for the party day and night. You’ve been exhausted, but done your best for the party. And you did a good job in convincing the party.” He also praised the grass-roots level in the party, which quickly had to organize extraordinary meetings all over the country to elect delegates to Friday’s meeting.
He did not resign immediately, although he’d announced earlier in the day that he would if he lost. Norwegian Broadcastig (NRK) reported that Hareide’s resignation would likely take effect when government negotiations with Solberg are finished.
“KrF is my party, regardless,” Hareide said.
Both Ropstad and Bollestad were clearly touched by Hareide’s remarks, and didn’t seem to want Hareide to resign: “Kjære Knut Arild, you are our party leader. I am incredibly proud of you. I think you are Norway’s bravest politician,” Ropstad declared to a room full of emotional party members.
“I hope this national meeting will be the last time we talk about being red or blue,” Ropstad continued. “We are all Christian Democrats.” Marching now into government.