NEWS ANALYSIS: The resignation of Bjørnar Moxnes as leader of Norway’s Reds Party came as no surprise on Monday. Stealing a pair of designer sunglasses from a tax-free store before flying abroad in June didn’t exactly fit the image of a top politician known for championing taxation to reduce social differences. His dramatic fall comes after several other politicians also have disappointed voters, who in turn are losing faith in their leaders.
Moxnes is just the latest top politician who seemed to lose grasp of what’s right and wrong, or was simply overcome by their own power and position. His trouble began when he took the sunglasses at OSL Gardermoen, later tried to downplay what amounted to shoplifting, changed his story several times and ultimately went out on sick leave. The latter is often used as the ultimate cop-out in Norway, though, and he was ridiculed for that, too.
A majority of party colleagues initially defended the well-spoken Moxnes, who’s credited with reforming and turning the Reds Party into a major and corrective force in Parliament and at party leader debates during his 11 years at the Reds’ helm. His colleagues believed his initial claim that he simply forgot to pay for the sunglasses, but later felt betrayed themselves when surveillance video showed exactly what he did. Then he allegedly lied to one of his own deputy leaders.
Now she, Marie Sneve Martinussen, has replaced him as party leader after Moxnes finally decided to step down for making what he called “a big mistake” and handling it even worse. “I took those sunglasses,” he admitted in a written statement issued Monday morning. “I did something wrong, and I must take the consequences of that.” As political commentator Tone Sofie Aglen wrote on state broadcaster NRK’s website Monday, Moxnes “did everything wrong,” and a watchdog party correcting all others “couldn’t have a thief as a leader.”
Moxnes’ resignation came just days after Ola Borten Moe of the Center Party had to resign as government minister in charge of higher education. He, too, had to admit to doing something wrong: buying stock in companies in which the government has stakes and therefore landing in conflicts of interest. Just a month earlier, another of his government colleagues, Anette Trettebergstuen of the Labour Party, also had to resign over conflicts of interest, while yet another goverment minister, Tonje Brenna, remains under investigation.
All that follows recent scandals around Members of Parliament who exploited varous benefits including free housing in Oslo, and generous expense and travel benefits. It led to the new Parliament that formed in 2021 being forced to redeem itself, only to see its newly elected president from the Labour Party caught up in scandal herself. She, too, had to resign. Her party’s prime minister, the embattled Jonas Gahr Støre, has already had to replace four ministers in his first two years.
There have already been reports of how Norwegians, who traditionally have had a high amount of confidence in their political leaders, are now losing faith. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) aired another story about the concerns during the weekend, just after Ola Borten Moe felt compelled to resign as minister and deputy leader of the Center Party and just before Moxnes resigned as leader of the Reds Party. Trude Basso, a key Labour politician in Trondheim, complained about how difficult it is to campaign for the upcoming municipal election in September because of all the politicians’ troubles that “disturb campaign issues.” She went so far as to state that even her own confidence “in the political Norway” is falling.
“Folks wonder what’s happening,” Basso told NRK on its nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen. “Why is it that we’ve seen so much conflict of interest, like with Borten Moe. There’s case after case coming up in national media.” She worries that it all stirs up doubts about whether elected officials really act in the best interests of society, or for what’s best for themselves: “I think that’s incredibly sad.”
Prime Minister Støre quickly responded that he “takes this very seriously,” since public confidence is “critical” in politics. “I can assure that there’s a lot of attention to this in the government. It can happen that people make mistakes. Then they have to take the consequences.”
Meanwhile Martinussen, who’ll now serve as acting Reds leader until a new national party meeting next year, appeared keen on Monday to carry on the Reds’ efforts to minimize economic differences among Norwegians by taxing the rich and boosting those less well-off. After initially defending Moxnes, she made it clear that she was “angry and disappointed” that he hadn’t shared “completely correct information” about his case along the way, and let him know.
Moxnes, like Ola Borten Moe and other elected officials who’ve landed in trouble, will still need to serve the rest of his term in Parliament. Norwegian law doesn’t allow elected officials to resign from office in such cases, a law that now may finally be amended. Not only do voters risk having crooks in office, it can be mighty awkward for those who’ve violated the public trust as well. Moe himself noted in his own remarks while stepping down last week how Norway was one of the only countries in Europe that doesn’t allow resignation from elected office, indirectly suggesting it’s time for a change.