Norway’s Christian Democrats, holding the balance of power in parliament, were meeting on Monday to decide whether to back a no-confidence motion against the justice minister, a step that could bring down the government.
Sylvi Listhaug has rocked Norway’s traditionally consensual politics 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.
“The polarizing rhetoric and behavior must end,” party leader Knut Arild Hareide told delegates in an opening address on Monday, before talks began in earnest behind closed doors.
He said he was seeking their advice on how to proceed. “The conclusion has not been drawn,” he added.
On Sunday, daily Verdens Gang and broadcasters NRK and TV2 quoted sources close to Prime Minister Erna 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 Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere.
Political scientist Johannes Bergh said they were unlikely to do so.
“They do not want a new a government,” said Bergh, a researcher at the Institute of Social Research in Oslo. “They do not want to contribute to a Labour-led government coming to power.”
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”.
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 on Monday said Solberg and Christian Democrat leader Hareide had discussed the possibility of defusing 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.