A nationally televised debate between Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was postponed on Wednesday after Stoltenberg had to undergo surgery on his left eye. They’ll face off on Thursday instead, as another round of favourable election poll results suggest Solberg is likely to take over his job this fall. She already can claim the title of Norway’s most powerful woman.
Stoltenberg and Solberg were scheduled to meet for an historic debate between Norway’s two leading prime minister candidates on TV2 Wednesday evening. Stoltenberg’s office announced at midday, however, that he had to cancel all appointments because of surgery he underwent on Tuesday morning to remove a growth on his left eye.
The surgery was deemed successful and his spokesman said Stoltenberg’s eye will recover fully. The debate was rescheduled for Thursday, when the 54-year-old prime minister was also due to meet reporters for his annual pre-summer press conference and mid-year assessment.
Solberg would be waiting to challenge her Labour Party rival with a solid degree of confidence, given recent poll results. Business magazine Kapital also has ranked Solberg, age 52, as the woman in Norway with the most power and influence at present, three months before the parliamentary election that her Conservative Party is expected to win.
“With every third voter behind her, Solberg is now the most probable candidate to take over as prime minister this fall,” wrote Kapital Editor Vibeke Holth, “and she has a unique position, which she uses to set the nation’s agenda.”
Recent public opinion polls have shown Solberg’s Conservatives (Høyre) as holding anywhere from 32 to 36.2 percent of the vote, with support rising. Stoltenberg’s Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) was down at 25-26 percent of the vote, losing its long-held ranking as Norway’s largest party.
Solid non-socialist majority
With the poll conducted by research firm Opinion Perduco for newspaper group ANB showing the even more conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) with 19.9 percent of the vote, and logging the biggest increase of 3.7 percentage points, the two non-socialist parties would have a majority in Parliament on their own.
That prompted newspaper Dagsavisen to declare that a “blue storm” was sweeping over the country, since the socialist parties are viewed as “red” and the conservative parties as “blue” in Norway. Høyre and Frp could rule together, even though Solberg has said she wants to lead a coalition government made up of all the non-socialist parties including the Liberals (Venstre) and the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF).
The Christian Democrats, meanwhile, gained a lot of momentum themselves in the latest poll conducted by research firm Respons for newspaper Aftenposten. They jumped to 7.2 percent of the vote, their highest level in years, well ahead of Venstre at 5 percent and the two small parties that form the current left-center coalition government with Labour, the Socialist Left (SV) and the Center Party (Sp). They could claim only 4.2 and 4.1 percent of the vote respectively.
‘Time for a change’
Politicians are careful to note that poll results are not election results, but the trend is clear: Stoltenberg is suffering one bad poll after another and looks likely to lose government power after eight years in office. Norwegian voters simply seem ready for a change. He personally had just 36 percent of the voters behind him in another poll taken June 10-12, while Solberg had 50 percent.
“Theses are shockingly low numbers for Jens Stoltenberg,” Sigurd Grytten, a former Member of Parliament for Labour, told Aftenposten on Wednesday. “It shows less power for mobilization around the prime minister. Labour has earlier won on the grounds of its leadership: ‘If you’re in doubt, vote for Stoltenberg.’” Now, Grytten said, that no longer seems to be the case.
He’ll get a chance to redeem himself Thursday night when TV2 will broadcast the delayed debate at 9:40pm. Stoltenberg is viewed as the best debater among the prime minister candidates, and a driven politician who loves election campaigns. He’ll likely try to build on his credibility, Grytten said, as he tries to recapture the huge approval ratings he had just two years ago when he also won international praise for his leadership after the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011. While Norwegian voters seem to want new faces in government, Stoltenberg will try to convince them to keep his, even if bandaged.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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