OSLO (Reuters) - A populist politician with anti-immigration views was welcomed back into Norway’s cabinet on Friday, a little over a year after she was forced to resign in a row over security policy.
Sylvi Listhaug quit as justice minister in March 2018 after accusing the opposition Labour Party of putting “terrorists’ rights” before national security.
On Friday, Prime Minister Erna Solberg named Listhaug as minister for the elderly and public health.
“It’s fine for a minister to return to a different policy area,” said Solberg, whose Conservative Party heads a four-member coalition government that includes Listhaug’s right-wing Progress Party.
Populist parties have experienced rising fortunes across Europe since the refugee crisis that peaked in 2015, fuelled in part by a backlash against immigration.
Listhaug is a popular figure within the Progress Party and its support is essential for Solberg’s coalition - whose other members are the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats - to remain in office.
“Sylvi has said she stands by the apology she made to parliament,” Solberg said.
Listhaug’s comment hit a particularly sensitive nerve in a country that, in 2011, witnessed a bombing and mass shooting in which far-right militant Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people, many of them teenage members of Labour’s youth wing.
She made it in a Facebook posting after Labour and the Christian Democrats helped defeat a bill that would have given the state the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals of Norwegian citizenship if they were suspected of terrorism or of joining foreign militant groups.
The Christian Democrats, not in the cabinet at that time, threatened to bring down the government unless Listhaug resigned.
Listhaug has remained in the public eye during her absence.
This week she proposed that her party back a move to impose tougher prison terms for crimes committed in areas with high crime rates. That would correlate closely with areas where immigrants tend to live.
While her reintroduction to the cabinet will polarise public opinion, it also seems likely to revive the fortunes of her party, whose support has fallen by half in the last decade to about 11 percent.
Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and John Stonestreet