Thursday, 3 October 2013

Conservative Speaker in defiance of parliamentary custom

Receiving the King and Queen of the Netherlands yesterday turned out to be one of the last things Dag Terje Andersen did in his role as Speaker of the Norwegian Parliament. It was announced yesterday that the Conservative MP Olaf Michael “Olemic” Thommessen will be elected Speaker when the new Parliament is constituted on 8 October. This is somewhat surprising as Thommessen was widely expected to become Minister of Culture in the new government and because it breaks with tradition whereby the Speaker is normally chosen among MPs from the largest party in Parliament, i.e. the Labour Party.
There are six seats in Parliament’s Presidium and while a parliamentary majority may in theory choose to use their strength to fill all seats with their own there is a “gentlemen’s agreement” that these ought to be distributed between the parties after size.
In the previous term this meant that Labour, which was significantly larger than any other party, had the posts of Speaker and Third Vice Speaker, the Progress Party the First Vice Speaker, the Conservatives the Second Vice Speaker, the Socialist Left Party the Fourth Vice Speaker and the Christian People’s Party the Fifth Vice Speaker. The last position should by right have been held by the Centre Party, but was given to the Christian People’s Party so that there were as many members of the presidium from the parties forming a majority government as from the opposition.
Having won a majority in this year’s general election the four parties to the right of the political centre have apparently decided to dispense with this parliamentary custom. It is, however, not the first time this happens; between 1985 and 1993 the centre-right majority ensured that the Speaker’s chair was filled by the Conservative MP Jo Benkow.
It remains to be decided who will be the other five members of the Presidium.

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