Reflections on a Norwegian election
September 16, 2009
As for the reporters, Election Day is one of the few (if not only) events when reporters don’t run around looking like an unmade bed. It’s fashionable in press circles in Norway to come to work in jeans and T-shirts, as if one should be doing the wash instead of covering press conferences or interviewing top officials. Only occasionally are the journalists politely requested to go home and change, like the time a female reporter was assigned to cover a state funeral. An editor bravely drew the line over her skinny, torn jeans and skimpy shirt exposing her navel. Fortunately for him, she agreed that her attire wasn’t appropriate.
All the more curious, then, that reporters and photographers don’t onlyvoluntarily smart themselves up on Parliamentary Election Day but they almost dress up. Many men on otherwise casual Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) actually wore jackets and ties. Women reporters also looked refreshingly professional. These are the same people who otherwise tend to wander around the halls of government in those faded jeans and T-shirts. It’s tradition, apparently, to make an exception on Election Day. By the morning after, the old attire was back in vogue.
The politicians themselves also tend to “dress down” in Norway, apparently believing it’s politically correct to do so. They were also looking unusually spiffy, though, for the TV cameras on Monday. Among them was Hadia Tajik (photo left), the young, ambitious member of the Labour Party who turned out to be the only non-ethnically Norwegian person to secure a seat in Parliament. Afshan Rafiq of the Conservatives didn’t make the cut when the party wound up with too few votes in Oslo. Nor did Akhtar Chaudhry of the Socialist Left or Abid Q Raja of the Liberal Party, also for lack of votes to their parties. Hadia Tajik told newspaper Dagbladet that she thinks it’s a democratic problem when so few immigrants make it into the top levels of Norwegian politics. “The Parliament should have more representatives with immigrant background, and more who are old and young,” she said.
Her comment came in reference to statistics showing the vast majority are firmly middle-aged. Breaking the mold, though, is 22-year-old Mette Hanekamhaug from Molde, who won one of the new seats that voters handed to the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). Hanekamhaug says she became committed to Frp as a 15-year-old. She studied abroad after graduating from high school, then started working at the Parliament and still studies communications management at a business school in Oslo.
Also adding to the ranks of women in the new Parliament will be Kjersti Toppe, a 41-year-old mother of six (!) from Hordaland. She’s educated as a doctor and has served in local politics for the Center Party (Sp), including the Bergen City Council. She’ll be commuting to Oslo now, leaving her husband on the homefront to look after their half-dozen children aged five to 16.
There were, of course, plenty of veterans lurking around the various party gatherings held on Election Night. Former prime minister and untiring political commentator Kåre Willoch enjoyed rubbing elbows with fellow Conservatives, while former defense and foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg (photo) was firmly in place at the Labour Party’s valgvake. He’s the father of newly re-elected Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and also had helped out on the campaign trail. His wife, Jens’ mother, is still active as a politician herself, in the Oslo city government. All indications are that they’re mighty proud of their boy.