Immigrant vote can be decisive

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Norway’s political parties have realized that the immigrant vote can make or break them as they head into the next national municipal elections on September 11-12. Several parties including the Conservatives and Labour are actively courting support from relatively new arrivals eligible to cast a ballot.

Norway's Conservative Party (Høyre) has been actively courting the Polish vote, promising campaign brochures printed in Polish. PHOTO: Views and News

While only residents with Norwegian citizenship can vote in national elections, all legal residents of Norway can vote in municipal elections. That means that many more people are qualified to vote in the upcoming election than were those in national elections two years ago.

And indications are that record numbers of voters, both natives and immigrants, will cast their ballots. The terrorist attacks of July 22 have sparked extraordinary feelings of solidarity and belonging in Norway, also among those who weren’t born in Norway, and election observers are expecting a record turnout next month.

“We’re doing all we can to mobilize voters,” Libe Rieber-Mohn, who’s a candidate for the top city government position (byrådsleder) from the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet), told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). She spent last weekend handing out roses and talking to prospective voters at a shopping center in Oslo’s Grorud district, known for having fairly heavy concentrations of non-ethnic Norwegian residents.

The Labour Party, featuring its legendary Finance Minister Per Kleppe, also is keen on securing the immigrant vote. PHOTO: Views and News

The Conservative Party (Høyre), meanwhile, has been actively courting votes from Polish residents. “It’s important for us to get them to vote,” Nikolai Astrup, deputy leader of the Conservatives in Oslo, told DN. “And I think many of them will vote for Høyre.”

Voters from Eastern Europe have earlier had a tendency to vote for Norway’s left-leaning parties, but many voters from Poland who now live and work in Norway are sole-proprietors and may be more inclined to favour the Conservatives’ policies.

Geir Staib of Oslo Høyre noted that many Polish voters are Catholic and party campaigners have been stationing themselves around Catholic churches. “We don’t actually go in the church, but we’re around the church both before and after mass,” he said.

In 2007 there were round 7,000 Polish citizens with municipal voting rights as residents of Norway. Now there are around 30,000 Polish residents with voting rights, according to state statistics bureau SSB. Around 5,000 live in Oslo.

The Conservative Party also has printed campaign material in Polish, to appeal to the new voters, and is targeting Swedish voters in Oslo who may have been attracted to the conservative Moderaterna party in their homeland.

Tor Bjørklund, a professor in political science, said he thinks few so-called “guest workers” in Norway will turn out to vote, not least because many are young and not so interested in local politics. But the immigrant vote remains important.

“In Oslo, there’s great potential to get the immigrants out to the polls,” he said. Rieber-Mohn and her Labour Party colleague, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, even visited a cricket match during the summer where many Pakistani residents were represented. Rieber-Mohn has proposed establishing a permanent cricket field in the capital.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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