Friday, 23 March 2012

Three new ministers appointed today

In today’s State Council the King appointed three new members of the cabinet: Bård Vegar Solhjell (fourth photo) was appointed Minister of Environment, Heikki Holmås (sixth photo) Minister of Development and Inga Marte Thorkildsen (fifth photo) Minister of Children, Equality and Integration. After the State Council the new ministers were, in keeping with tradition, presented in the Palace Square by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
All the new ministers are MPs for the Socialist Left Party (SV), one of the three parties which make up the centre-left coalition which has governed Norway since 2005 (the other parties being the Labour Party and the Centre Party).
The ministerial changes come as a consequence of SV’s recent change of leadership. Having done badly in the local elections in September last year, Kristin Halvorsen announced her intention to step down as party leader after fifteen years in that position.
Holmås, Solhjell and Thorkildsen were all mentioned as possible successors along with Audun Lysbakken, deputy leader of the party and at that time the only of the four to sit in the cabinet (as Minister of Children, Equality and Integration).
Thorkildsen declined to run, while Solhjell and Holmås later withdrew from the contest as it was clear that Lysbakken had the most support. However, on 5 March Lysbakken was forced to resign from the cabinet after a scandal over his ministry having given financial support to organisations close to him and his party without following the rules properly.
Regardless of this Lysbakken was elected party leader a few days later, but will consequently have to lead the party from Parliament, despite the Prime Minister’s express wish that all the party leaders shall have a seat in the Cabinet and its subcommittee consisting of the three party leaders.
SV’s seat in that subcommittee, and the position as the Prime Minister’s deputy, will now be taken by Bård Vegar Solhjell, who is also deputy leader of the party and served as Minister of Education from 2007 to 2009. Since then he has been an MP and the party’s parliamentary leader, a post which Lysbakken will now fill.
Inga Marte Thorkildsen, who has been an MP since 2001 and was elected deputy leader of the party two weeks ago, now takes over Lysbakken’s former ministry.
As Kristin Halvorsen is no longer party leader she will now take over the entire Ministry of Education, which since 2007 has been split between a Minister of Education and a Minister of Research and Higher Education. This means that Tora Aasland, who has held the second post since 2007, now leaves the cabinet (she will turn 70 later this year and is thus the oldest female cabinet minister ever).
Erik Solheim, who was party leader from 1987 to 1997, was appointed Minister of International Development in 2005 and Minister of Environment and International Development in 2007, was widely expected to return to being only Minister of Environment, but was in the end deprived of both cabinet posts, which he has objected loudly to.
Solheim is succeeded as Minister of Environment by Bård Vegar Solhjell, and as Minister of International Development by Heikki Holmås, who has been an MP since 2005.
The replacement of a former party leader (Solheim) and a former deputy party leader (Aasland) from the 1980s and 1990s with the two current deputy leaders (Solhjell and Thorkildsen) and the man who did second best in the leadership contest (Holmås) is obviously a generational shift, but may also be interpreted as an attempt by a party which struggles in the polls to regain ground ahead of next year’s general election by putting three of its four most talented politicians of the younger generation in the cabinet.
The irony is of course that of the four people who were mentioned as possible party leaders last September, three are now in the cabinet, while the one who actually won the leadership contest was forced to resign from the cabinet just days before his elevation to the leadership.

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