Norway’s conservative Progress Party confirmed on Friday that it had received another complaint about its controversial Member of Parliament, Ulf Leirstein. It won’t be investigated further, though, because Leirstein had announced earlier in the day that he was leaving the party after 30 years.
Leirstein wrote on social media that the last year had “been difficult.” Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) had reported in January 2018, during the height of the “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment, that Leirstein had repeatedly sent pornographic photos using his parliamentary email address to young male party colleagues in his home district of Østfold, south of Oslo.
One of the recipients of Leirstein’s photos was a 14-year-old boy. More reports emerged of complaints against Leirstein, with NRK also revealing a text message exchange with another Progress Party colleague in which Leirstein proposed inviting a 15-year-old boy to engage in three-way sex. Leirstein himself was 38 at the time, and he apologized last year for his offensive behaviour.
Didn’t mention new complaint
When he announced his resignation from the party Friday morning, Leirstein wrote that he’d been subjected to “a witchhunt” that he views as out of proportion to “what I have done and what I am accused of.” He referred to “steady media headlines tied to a period in my life many (six) years ago that I wish hadn’t occurred.” He hoped that leaving the party would help calm the situation for the party, for himself and his family.
Leirstein didn’t mention that yet another complaint had been filed against him “a few weeks ago,” according to Alf Erik Andersen, the leader of the party’s committee charged with handling complaints. Andersen confirmed the filing to NRK later on Friday but wouldn’t reveal the nature of the complaint. He told NRK that it stemmed from roughly the same period as the earlier ones, “around seven to eight years ago.”
Andersen said the committee launched a probe into the new complaint. “Now we register that Ulf Leirstein has resigned from the party, and we won’t investigate further,” he told NRK, adding that the party had “good routines” for taking care of the unidentified person who filed the complaint against Leirstein.
His resignation thus suspends a new investigation. Leirstein can’t be fired as an MP, however, since all elected representatives in Norway are viewed as answerable only to voters. He will retain his seat in Parliament as an independent politician until his term ends in 2021, at which point he wrote that he “looks forward to being able to use my strengths and experience in a job in the civilian sector.”
Leirstein sent a message to the media that he would not make any further comment and that he did not want to be contacted about his resignation. He noted that it also had to do with politics: “The Progress Party has accomplished a lot that’s good while in the government, but now I think that too many compromises have weakened the party too much.” Progress has sunk deeply in the polls after a series of other scandals involving some of its top politicians. Leirstein made no mention of having possibly contributed to the party’s loss of voter confidence and satisfaction.
Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, had called Leirstein’s resignation “sad” before news broke of the new complaint. “I understand that it’s been a tough time for Ulf and that it was a demanding decision for him to resign,” Jensen stated, “but I respect his decision and wish him good luck outside the party.”
Per-Willy Amundsen, a former Progress Party justice minister who represents the party’s most conservative wing, also thinks it’s sad to lose Leirstein. “I believe what he writes and understand why,” Amundsen said. “I can understand that he thinks he’ll never be finished with this case (the complaints filed against him), they’ll come up again and again.”