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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Scolded politicians hang on to power

Months of scandal and conflicts of interest around several top Norwegian politicians ended this week with the Parliament voting unanimously to “strongly criticize” former prime minister Erna Solberg and officially criticize several other members and government ministers. Their offenses have sparked a proposal to limit Members of Parliament (MPs) to no more than three terms, in order to avoid political entrenchment, but many veteran MPs oppose the idea.

Conservatives leader Erna Solberg has managed to fend off criticism by admitting to it, and is now ready to move forward with her campaign to return to the prime minister’s office. PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

Conservatives leader Solberg herself has spent 34 years in Parliament, eight of them as prime minister. She and former Progress Party leader Carl I Hagen share the longevity record, followed by two other Conservative MPs, Jan Tore Sanner (31 years) and Trond Helleland (26 years). Eight others from various parties have held their seats in Parliament for 18 years or more.

The danger, according to MP Ingrid Fiskaa of the Socialist Left Party (SV), is that they can form an elite class of politicians living and working in Oslo who risk losing contact with the people who elected them. Fiskaa told newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad already last month that she thinks it could be a good idea to limit consecutive four-year terms in office to three.

That could help boost confidence in MPs, according to Fiskaa, because politicians who sit too long contribute towards widening the gap between career politicians and ordinary people. Newspaper Klassekampen found out, though, that there’s little interest among such politicians to give up their careers.

The 79-year-old Hagen of the Progress Party, for example, feels no obligation to give up his seat in favour of younger politicians and cites the value of experience among MPs. Per Olaf Lundteigen of the Center Party, age 70, has held his seat for 21 years and also stresses the need for experience. “This is something the individual parties need to evaluate,” Lundteigen told Klassekampen, “but there’s a culture that if you’re young and promising you’ll do a better job. I disagree.”

MP Grunde Almeland of the Liberal Party led the disciplinary committee’s probe into conflicts of interest among several MPs and members of government. PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

“It’s a bad proposal,” echoed Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservatives, a former government minister who has held a seat in Parliament for 32 years. He claims its up to the voters to decide which party lists of candidates they’ll support.

His party’s leader, the 34-year veteran Erna Solberg, sees no reason to step aside either, not even after receiving the most severe scolding her fellow MPs could impose. Solberg also remains the Conservatives’ candidate for prime minister in next year’s national election, despite landing in conflicts of interest over her husband’s share trading so many times that it was impossible to mount a full overview.

She readily admitted to repeatedly violating state regulations aimed at keeping politicians impartial, has apologized and repeated this week that she has deserved all the criticism directed at her. Even though five parties also claimed her offenses violated “the confidence demanded to be the nation’s leader,” she has not offered to step down either as party leader or prime minister candidate.

Nor have two of the Conservatives’s former government partners demanded she be replaced as prime minister candidate next year. Solberg ultimately prevailed when Guri Melby, leader of the non-socialist Liberals who’ve long cooperated with the Conservatives, confirmed her ongoing support for Solberg as prime minister this week. “We will head into the next election as a government alternative with the Conservatives, and they choose their prime minister candidate themselves,” Melby told newspaper Aftenposten. That’s decisive for Solberg, since Melby herself had been viewed as a possible candidate in a non-socialist government.

The Christian Democrats have also opted to back Solberg, leaving the conservative Progress Party as the only ones who “haven’t kissed (Solberg’s) ring,” as newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized this week. Progress’ deputy leader Hans Andreas Limi said his party will now launch “a process” involving both “strategic and politial issues” tied to sharing government power. The party doesn’t think, though, that Solberg’s conflicts of interest will stand in the way of her candidacy.

Several other top politicians also got away with their conflicts of interest. The Labour Party replaced Anniken Huitfeldt as foreign minister but now she’s set to become Norway’s ambassador to the US, almost like a consolation prize. Two other former ministers who got into trouble had already resigned at their own initiative.

Only Labour Minister Tonje Brenna faces tougher punishment than the criticism she was slapped with this week by the full Parliament. Its disciplinary committee will now evaluate new information about her own conflicts of interest while she was education minister that may elevate their criticism of her. Progress’ proposal to launch a lack-of-confidence vote against Brenna, however, failed to gain support.

Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized, meanwhile, that the Parliament handled all the scandals and conflicts of interest “in a good and discplined manner” and hailed how it wrapped up the latest trouble to cast a shadow over the legislators. “It was a good response after serious let-downs” on the part of Norwegian MPs, Aftenposten wrote. Now it’s back to business as the positioning prior to next year’s election begins. Berglund



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