The Progress Party stirs up a storm

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UPDATED: Progress Party leader and Finance Minister Siv Jensen is suddenly threatening to storm out of Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s conservative coalition. The uproar could topple the government,  just as Jensen’s party itself has been branded as the most scandal-plagued party in the country.

NOT SMILING NOW: Prime Minister Erna Solberg (second from right) was finally able to form a majority coalition government last January when Kjell Ingolf Ropstad of the Christian Democrats (far left) joined her, Siv Jensen of the Progress Party and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party (far right). All of them had to make compromises to come up with a government platform, but now there have apparently been too many, and Progress is threatening to bow out. PHOTO: Høyre/ Hans Kristian Thorbjørnsen

Jensen claimed late Wednesday that the government’s surprise decision to repatriate two small children and their mother, who had joined the IS terrorist organization, was “the last straw.” Progress had strongly opposed helping the IS widow in any way, only to see Solberg’s Conservatives side with the  government’s much smaller partners, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, who wanted to save the children also if it meant bringing their mother home as well.

“We won’t sit in a government at any price,” Jensen told Norwegian media Wednesday afternoon. She said she could no longer defend her party’s participation in Solberg’s government coalition, despite the dilemma Solberg faced.

“We have been very skeptical to this (helping free the former IS mother along with her two children from a squalid refugee camp in Syria) all along,” Jensen said. She and party fellows have also claimed that the young Norwegian-Pakistani mother was using her young children, one of whom is seriously ill, to improve her own situation, since she would only allow her children’s repatriation if she was brought back to Norway as well.

All four party leaders met at Solberg’s home Wednesday night, but there was no immediate resolution to the threatened government crisis Thursday morning. Jensen told NRK, however, that she would deliver a list of demands to Solberg by the end of the day.

‘Not prevailing on enough issues’
All this comes, according to Jensen, “after we’ve had too much difficulty winning support for issues that concern us. We want to make a difference. We think the Conservatives have been leaning too much in favour of the Christian Democrats and the Liberals (both of which joined the coalition during the past two years) and given in (to them) too many times. That’s contributed to making our politics grey and boring.”

Jensen stated on her party’s website Wednesday night that “we are the next-largest party in the government, and that should be reflected in the government’s policies. That’s now difficult to see.”

Others will argue that Progress, Norway’s most conservative party in Parliament, has steered the government to a much harder line on immigration issues, will only accept a bare minimum of refugees into Norway and caused quite a bit of trouble for Solberg over the past six-and-a-half years, not least because of personal scandals involving several of its politicians. Solberg might gladly do without them in her government, but still needs their current bloc of votes in Parliament.

Progress Party leader Siv Jensen also had to address disappointed party members after last autumn’s poor local election results rolled in. Progress’ standings in public opinion polls have taken a dive in recent months. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Jensen’s biggest challenge this week, however, has been defending herself and Progress’ other government ministers against many furious party members (including Progress’ delegation in Parliament) who were never told about the government’s decision to rescue the IS family. It was reportedly made as early as last fall, “but we couldn’t say anything,” Jensen insisted on NRK’s nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen on Wednesday. Not even the leader of Progress’ MPs was aware of the decision, and didn’t like hearing about it through the media.

Jensen thus had to convene what the press branded as a “crisis meeting” of her own Wednesday afternoon with Progress leaders and Members of Parliament. Jensen claimed afterwards that they’d all had “a very good and thorough discussion” and that she could understand their anger and frustration over having to give in to the repatriation effort.

“We can’t just always end up with compromises that none of the partners are satisfied with,” Jensen told NRK. “I have the impression there’s too much wear and tear among us. This is a very good opportunity to move forward, and make some decisions.”

She refused to say exactly what she and her party, which has plunged in public opinion polls, will now demand from Solberg in order to retain the government’s majority in Parliament. As reported earlier, several county leaders in the Progress Party are keen to leave the government now, even before any deals are struck with Solberg.

Siv Jensen and Liberals’ leader Trine Skei Grande used to be viewed as friends outside of politics. Now they seem to be at each other’s throats. They’re pictured here chatting before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The Progress Party, meanwhile, has emerged as Norway’s political party with the most political scandals since World War II. That’s been documented in a new master’s degree thesis by political scientist Kim Arne Hammerstad.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Wednesday how Hammerstad details Progress’ involvement in 12 of the 41 scandals he chronicled during the post-war years. Hammerstad only included scandals involving one specific politician, rather than those set off within parties or governments at large.

They range from a former Center Party leader’s leak of sensitive documents that led to his resignation as prime minister in 1971 to more “private life” scandals, such as when Progress’ Terje Søviknes had to resign his party post 20 years ago after having sex with a minor during a meeting of Progress’ youth organization. Progress has dominated those types of scandals, not least during the past two years where various Progress Members of Parliament have been caught up in fraud and sex scandals.

“The Listhaug scandal sets in many ways the gold standard when it comes to modern political scandals,” Hammerstad wrote, measured by all the media coverage of her assertion that the rival Labour Party was more concerned with the rights of terrorists than Norway’s security. She ultimately had to resign her post as justice minister. Listhaug is, however, the only Progress politician who managed to make a sustainable comeback later, and now serves as Norway’s oil minister.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund