Stoltenberg bows out graciously

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Just two years ago, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was being widely praised both in and out of Norway for his strong and compassionate leadership following the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011. On Monday, the government coalition he’s led for the past eight years lost the parliamentary election, but he kept smiling, declaring that “we are not in any way beaten.”

He seemed invincible just two years ago when he led the country out of crisis, but Jens Stoltenberg's Labour Party couldn't hang on to government power despite Stoltenberg's personal popularity and even though it emerged as the largest party in the land. Most, including Labour Party secretary Raymond Johansen (left), attributed the loss simply to voter fatigue. At right, deputy party leader Helga Pedersen. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

He seemed invincible just two years ago when he led the country out of crisis, but Jens Stoltenberg’s Labour Party couldn’t hang on to government power despite Stoltenberg’s personal popularity and even though it emerged as the largest party in the land. Most, including Labour Party secretary Raymond Johansen (left), attributed the loss simply to voter fatigue. At right, deputy party leader Helga Pedersen. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

That brought his cheering Labour Party faithful to their feet once again as they tried to come to grips with election defeat. The Labour-led government successfully guided Norway through the finance crisis, has kept unemployment at the lowest level in all of Europe and has, among other things, led the country while it’s repeatedly been branded as the best country on the planet in which to live. Party members and officials may be justified in feeling some bitterness that voters didn’t repay them with another term in office. Stoltenberg seemed to take it in stride, not least since his party wound up once again as the largest single party in Norway, just without power.

“We have an election result we can be proud of,” he said from the podium at Folketshus in Oslo, where Labour traditionally gathers. “We are the largest party by a good margin. We mobilized voters very well. And after eight years in office, our election result was only two percentage points under that in 2005.”

Final election results aren't yet available, but the Conservative bloc seemed set to claim 96 seats in Parliament compared to the Labour-led coalition's 72. GRAPHIC: newsinenglish.no

Final election results aren’t yet available, but the Conservative bloc seemed set to claim 96 seats in Parliament compared to the Labour-led coalition’s 72. GRAPHIC: newsinenglish.no

It’s the eight years in office that most members of Labour and its coalition partners blame for the voter let-down. “After eight years in office, many want a change just for the sake of change,” Espen Barth Eide, who’s been serving as foreign minister in Stoltenberg’s government, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “That’s usual in Europe.”

Sigbjorn Johnsen, Labour’s finance minister, said much the same as did party secretary Raymond Johansen. “We have sat the longest in recent memory and hardly anyone ever wins three terms,” Johansen told NRK, adding that “many wanted new faces.”

It was the weakness of Labour’s partner SV (the Socialist Left party), which was barely maintaining representation in Parliament as election returns continued to click in during the night, that contributed to Labour’s downfall. SV seemed to be holding on to 4 percent of the vote while Labour’s other coalition partner Sp (the Center Party) was holding 5.5 percent. Together that left the three parties with far fewer voters than the Conservatives and Progress Party alone, and even less if all four non-socialist parties form a government.

Stoltenberg, in typical endearing style, allowed that “it is okay to be a bit disappointed tonight.” He congratulated Erna Solberg for her Conservative Party’s good showing and wished her luck in forming a new non-socialist government coalition. If she fails, there’s always a chance Stoltenberg can step forward again and offer to reinstate the current coalition.

“But I can promise that we will be a constructive and responsible party in opposition,” Stoltenberg said with a smile. “And we have shown that we can make a turnaround. So welcome to hard work before the next election in 2017.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund