Norway Government Faces Crisis as Key Backer Considers Defection

(Bloomberg) -- The leader of the Christian Democrats called on his party to end its support of Norway’s Conservative-led government, threatening Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s minority coalition just one year into her second term.

Knut Arild Hareide said in a speech on Friday that his Christian Democrats must seek government power to gain greater influence, but that it should go into a coalition with the opposition Center and Labor parties. His party, struggling in the polls, has provided a majority in parliament for three-party minority coalition over the past year and backed Solberg in the previous four years.

Hareide has been in frequent disagreement on a number of issues, including immigration policy, with Solberg’s junior partner, the right-wing Progress Party. “I want a government with the most possible weight in the center,” Hareide said in a speech on Friday.

The recommendation to shift sides will now be discussed and decided on by the full party. It will hold an extraordinary national gathering in November to decide on the issue, news agency NTB reported.

Hareide’s flirt with Labor could put his job at risk. His two deputies, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad and Olaug Bollestad, both on Friday rejected a step to the left and said that the party should first try to join the current government, according to NTB. A survey in newspaper VG published this week also showed that a majority of Christian Democrat politicians want a closer relationship with Solberg’s government, while only 24 percent want ties with Labor and the Center party.

Solberg on Friday said that the “door remains open” for the Christian Democrats to join her government and that its priorities would be taken care of. "It’s up to the Christian Democrats to discuss which way it wants to go,” she said in a webcast press conference at the prime minister’s residence.

Hareide also said he would reject any cooperation with the Socialist Left, a key support party of Labor. Together, Labor, the Center Party and the Christian Democrats only control 76 seats in the 169-person parliament. Solberg’s current government has 80 seats.

A Christian Democrat defection would end Solberg’s long-term goal of forming a center-right majority government. The 57-year-old premier won reelection last year and then managed to expand her coalition with the Liberal Party. Hareide declined to join because of his differences with the Progress Party.

The move raises the temperature ahead of a budget announcement on Oct. 8 and adds to a difficult first year for Solberg in her second term. She has lost two ministers to controversies and almost faced a confidence vote in March.

Labor party leader Jonas Gahr Store said in a webcast by VG from parliament that he’s open to cooperation and ready to take over if he can secure a majority, but will wait and see what the Christian Democrats decide.

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