This Week Could Spell the End of Norway's Conservative Coalition
(Bloomberg) -- The fate of Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s government could be decided by one lone Christian Democrat at the end of this week.
Even for a nation that has plenty of experience with the parliamentary turmoil that comes with fragile minority governments, the next five days will bring an unusual degree of uncertainty.
That’s because the leader of the Christian Democrats has put his job on the line by calling for his party to abandon its support for the Conservative-led government and caucus with the Labor Party, which would effectively shift the balance of power in parliament. The party, which has just 8 seats in the 169 seats legislature, will hold a vote on which way to go on Friday.
“This is historic,” said Johan Giertsen, a law professor at the University of Bergen who runs the popular pollofpolls.no website. “We’ve never been close to this kind of process and government shift before.”
Knut Arild Hareide, the 45-year-old Christian Democrat leader, is challenging Solberg just a year into her second term. He has steadfastly refused to join the government because of disagreements with the right-wing Progress Party, Solberg’s junior coalition partner. He’s now seeking to convince his party that it has more in common with Labor.
It’s personal for Hareide, who after last year’s election only tentatively agreed to remain on Solberg’s side. He has been in frequent conflict with the anti-immigration group and was even accused by a key Progress Party member during the campaign of “licking Imams up the back.”
But abandoning a long-held position at the center-right of the political spectrum is a hard-sell for many Christian Democrats. In fact, Hareide’s two top lieutenants are both now campaigning to join with Solberg. The party differs on many issues with Labor and especially with its support party, the Socialist Left.
Solberg, meanwhile, has repeatedly said that the “door remains open” for the Christian Democrats to join her government, which would give her a majority. After being reelected last year, she managed to expand her coalition with the Liberal Party, leaving only the Christian Democrats still on the outside.
A running tally by newspaper VG of how Christian Democrats will vote on Nov. 2 shows that Hareide faces a possible defeat. Of the 190 delegates that will vote on Friday, 91 have so far declared for Solberg, while 85 want to cast their lot with Labor and 4 are undecided. The tally continues this week as local chapters decide.
Bernt Aardal, a political science professor at the University of Oslo, said the situation is “very special” for Norwegian politics since these types of party decisions are usually made right after an election.
The potential split is a result of growing differences within the two blocs of Norwegian politics, which is in part due to the rising influence of the Progress Party, he said.
After spending decades as a populist outsider, the anti-tax and anti-immigration party entered government for the first time in 2013. While Norway sits on a $1 trillion wealth fund and has next to no unemployment, it hasn’t proved immune to the political instability plaguing the rest of Europe. The U.K. is struggling in the aftermath of its Brexit vote, Italy’s populist rulers are chafing at European Union budget rules, while neighboring Sweden is still without a new government more than a month after an inconclusive election that saw surging support for a nationalist party.
“The Conservatives aren’t the problem but governing with the Progress Party is,” Aardal said. The Christian Democrats “feel are very distant from them both in terms of values and ideology,” he said.
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