Digging a hole: New justice minister cancels Svalbard visit to face no-confidence vote for controversial statements

They said her vehement anti-immigration policies wouldn’t likely be relevant to her administrative oversight of Svalbard. They were wrong – perhaps disastrously so for all involved.

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A social media post by Norwegian Minister of Justice and Public Security Sylvi Listhaug accusing political opponents has touched off an uproar that forced her to cancel a visit to Svalbard as she faces a no-confidence vote on Tuesday.

Sylvi Listhaug, appointed Norway’s Minister of Justice and Public Security in January, was supposed to make her first visit to the archipelago Sunday and Monday where, among other things, she likely would have faced a barrage of questions about a new avalanche risk report declaring much of downtown Longyearbyen unsafe.

But she cancelled the trip shortly after the report’s release because she – and possibly Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her entire cabinet – are facing ouster due to a social media post by Listhaug suggesting the opposition Labor Party considers “the rights of terrorists (to be) more important than the security of the nation.” The post was accompanied by a photo of Islamic militants with military fatigues, black scarves and ammunition.

Listhaug, a member of the right-wing Progress Party, wrote the post in response to Labor’s rejection of a proposal to strip jihadists of their Norwegian citizenship without a court decision. It also coincided with the premiere the movie “Utoeya July 22,” about the attacks by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik against Labor Party officials and youths at an politically oriented summer camp. Listhaug subsequently stated she was not trying to said she had no intention of linking the two.

Norway’s Centre Party announced Friday it would join three left-wing parties in a no-confidence motion against Listhaug on Tuesday. If the vote is approved “Prime Minister Erna Solberg would then face the choice of letting Listhaug go, weakening the cabinet and risking a defection by her Progress coalition ally, or to decide that the whole government should resign,” according to Reuters.

The justice ministry is responsible for drafting Svalbard’s budget and policy, and the controversy over Listhaug is occurring while Longyearbyen is facing great uncertainty about its future in a number of ways. In addition to the avalanche assessment which may make 140 homes uninhabitable (worsening an already dire housing shortage), a decision by the government to dismantle its two main coal mines here instead of reopening them has local residents and officials questioning the town’s long-term economic base.

Knut Morten Johansen, the ministry’s state secretary, is scheduled to visit Longyearbyen in Listhaug’s place. A public meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel.

 

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