Progress Party crisis continues

Norway´s troubled right wing Progress Party (FrP) has yet to put its troubles behind it. After recent internal warfare over who should be nominated to the top positions on the party´s candidates´ lists for the next general election in September, it appears that party boss Carl I. Hagen has been able to gather enough political support for his candidates and that his opponents in the party have been pushed aside.

The organisation, however, still bears the scars of battle, scars that, in some cases, are proving too deep to heal. Two FrP MPs have walked out of the party and will serve the rest of their parliamentary term  as independent MPs, while the leader of FrP´s branch in the northern county of Troms has quit her post after just one year because of the bruising internal encounters.

Although they failed to topple Hagen, his opponents have been able to muster considerable support at local FrP branch meetings where the candidates´ list was debated and decided. Some of those meetings turned to be the most fractious in the FrP´s history.

What has been new on the Norwegian political stage, though, has been a level of mud-slinging and unsubstantiated rumour that could equal any US presidential election: two of FrP´s most high profile politicians have had to go on prime-time TV to denounce rumours of adultery, the abuse of alcohol and drugs and, even, paedophilia.

And there are other storm clouds on the horizon. At the beginning of February, the party was rocked by the revelation that a leading member quizzed by police in Bergen had handed over an extensive list of alleged victims of sexual assault in the organisation. Party managers have since been in touch with nine people, seven girls and two boys, who claim to have been raped or sexually abused.

There is still doubt, however, whether a 17-year-old girl who claims former Progress Party deputy chairman Terje Søviknes raped her will formally press charges. Søviknes has resigned all his positions within the party and has taken leave of absence as mayor of Os while the allegations are investigated. Hagen, apparently, knew about this affair for four months, and his effort to shove it under the carpet leaves him in serious difficulties.

In the opinion polls, the vicious infighting and sex accusations have taken their toll with support for the previously high-flying FrP nose-diving still further to 17.1% from 23% in January. As many as a third of previous FrP voters are now indicating that they will find other parties to vote for in the general election.



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