March 19, 2018 / 6:24 AM / 5 months ago

Norway government under threat as key party says it has no confidence in minister

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s Christian Democrats, holding the balance of power in parliament, said on Monday they had no confidence in the justice minister, a day ahead of a vote that could bring down the center-right government.

FILE PHOTO: Norway's Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug and her political adviser Espen Teigen are seen in the Norwegian parlament after several parties supported a motion of no-confidence against her in Oslo, Norway March 15, 2018. NTB Scanpix/Gorm Kallestad via REUTERS

On Tuesday parliament will debate a no-confidence motion against Sylvi Listhaug, who has triggered uproar by accusing the opposition Labour Party - in 2011 the target of the country’s worst peacetime massacre - of putting terrorists’ rights before national security.

Five opposition parties last week said they would vote on Tuesday to oust the minister, leaving her fate in the hands of the small Christian Democratic Party (CDP). It has in the past backed the government but held meetings on Monday to decide its position.

“Our national board has expressed no confidence in the justice minister,” Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild Hareide told reporters after the talks.

“Now it’s up to Prime Minister Erna Solberg to clean up this situation.”

Hareide did not specifically say the CDP would vote for the no-confidence motion, leaving open the possibility of the party winning concessions from Solberg overnight.

On Sunday, daily Verdens Gang and broadcasters NRK and TV2 quoted sources close to Solberg as saying her cabinet would stand by Listhaug and resign if the no-confidence vote succeeded.

Snap elections are not allowed, and Norway’s next general election is not due until 2021. Solberg might be able to form a new government, but if the Christian Democrats switched sides the task could fall to opposition Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere.

Parliamentary leaders will address Parliament in turn on Tuesday from 1000 CET (5 a.m. ET), with a vote due later in the day.

“Should the government suddenly resign, the crown could weaken, but that would be temporary and not very strong as the fundamentals are good,” said Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at brokerage DNB Markets.

The leader of the Norwegian Christian Democratic Party Knut Arild Hareide speaks to his party's board at the Norwegian parliament in Oslo, Norway March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Joachim Dagenborg

ISLAND MASSACRE

On July 22, 2011, far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people in downtown Oslo with a car bomb and then shot dead 69 people, many of them teenagers, at a Labour party camp on Utoeya Island.

On March 9, Listhaug posted on Facebook a photograph of masked people clad in military fatigues, black scarves and ammunition with the text: “Labour thinks terrorists’ rights are more important than the nation’s security. Like and Share”.

In a country which traditionally strives for political consensus, the comments unleashed a political storm, and Listhaug, a member of the right-wing Progress Party, apologized in parliament on March 13. Most opposition parties said her gesture was not sincere enough.

Many attempts have been made in parliament to oust governments via no-confidence motions, but the last to succeed in bringing down a cabinet was in 1963.

Daily Aftenposten said on Monday Solberg and Hareide had discussed the possibility of trying to defuse the situation by having Listhaug apologize again.

The dispute erupted after Labour and the Christian Democrats helped defeat a bill allowing the state the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals of Norwegian citizenship if they were suspected of terrorism or joining foreign militant groups.

Hareide’s party has backed Conservative leader Solberg for prime minister since 2013, but has declined invitations to join the cabinet, primarily due to its opposition to the Progress Party.

Additional reporting by Camilla Knudsen, Ole Petter Skonnord and Gwladys Fouche; writing by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Roche

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