March 20, 2018 / 7:02 AM / in a year

Norway's minority government hangs in the balance as no-confidence vote looms

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s parliament will vote on Tuesday on a no-confidence motion against Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug that could bring down the centre-right government, which rules in a minority.

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

The Christian Democrats, holding the balance of power, said on Monday they had lost confidence in the minister, who has accused the opposition Labour Party - the target of a 2011 massacre - of putting terrorists’ rights before national security.

“Now it’s up to Prime Minister Erna Solberg to clean up this situation,” Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild Hareide told reporters.

The statement left the door ajar for Solberg of the Conservative Party to make last-minute concessions, but she has so far been unwilling to fire the right-wing Progress Party justice minister or move her to a different government post.

The no-confidence motion applies only to Listhaug, but the prime minister is widely expected to raise the political stakes and announce that her cabinet stands behind the justice minister, and would therefore resign if the no-confidence vote were to succeed.

While such brinkmanship could in turn persuade the Christian Democrats, long-term supporters of Solberg’s government, to back down, it may also lead to the cabinet’s collapse if Hareide holds firm.

Snap elections are not allowed, and Norway’s next general election is only due in 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 (0900 GMT), with a vote due later in the day.

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 that traditionally strives for consensus, the comments unleashed a political storm, and Listhaug apologised in parliament on March 13. Most opposition parties said her gesture was not sincere enough.

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 of joining foreign militant groups.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Joachim Dagenborg; Editing by Eric Meijer

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