Monday, July 11, 2005

Norwegian politician campaigns in India

Lise Merete Olaussen:

Kristin Halvorsen (center, in white) visited one of the most holy places for Sikhs on Sunday

The head of Norway's Progress Party caught flak for campaigning among Norwegian ex-pats in Spain. Now the head of a party at the opposite end of the political spectrum, the Socialist Left, is doing the same thing, in India and Pakistan.

SV boss Kristin Halvorsen is being criticized by other politicians for doing just what one of her arch political fiends, Progress Party boss Carl I Hagen, has done in the past: Courting votes from long outside Norway's borders.

"A populistic campaign stunt," sniffed Rita Sletner of the Liberal Party (Venstre) over the weekend.

A dramatic increase in the number of non-western immigrants with voting rights in Norway seems to having an effect in the run-up to this September's national election. Halvorsen launched a four-day swing through India and Pakistan on Sunday, where she will meet Norwegian-Indians and Norwegian-Pakistanis on holiday in their homelands.

She was to visit Kharian in Pakistan, known as "Little Norway" for its large concentration of emigrants to Norway, and she donned ethnic dress on Sunday during a campaign swing through Amrtisar in India.

She was warmly greeted, until she brought up the issue of forced marriages. SV, she declared to a suddenly silent audience, is strongly opposed to forced marriages "but we see the difference between forced marriages and arranged marriages." She quickly changed the subject.

Erling Lae, a politician from the Conservatives who heads Oslo's city council, also has visited Kharian, but said Halvorsen's trip should be more than just a PR campaign. He had challenged her to bring up the issue of forced marriages.

Halvorsen, meanwhile, has fired back at her critics, saying they're showing a "total lack of respect for the large immigrant groups in Norway." She said she was "surprised" that opposition politicians "are trying to ridicule us for trying to show respect towards immigrants from India and Pakistan."

Few, she claimed, exercise their right to vote in Norway. "It's a challenge to get them involved," she said.

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