Greens blossom as election wildcard

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Norway’s blossoming Greens party, which roots all its policies in what’s best for the environment and the climate, is now harvesting so much support that it can decide the upcoming elections in the country’s biggest cities, not least Oslo. The Greens have been luring voters away from the country’s more-established parties, and splitting the vote on both the left and the right.

More and more voters, in all age groups, are turning to the Greens party and its proposals for moving Norway away from oil dependency and towards a greener future. PHOTO:

More and more voters, in all age groups, are turning to the Greens party and its proposals for moving Norway away from oil dependency and towards a greener future. The Greens’ election booth here on Karl Johans Gate in Oslo has attracted lots of visitors in recent weeks. PHOTO:

“Wow, what’s happening?” exclaimed even the happily astonished leader of the Greens (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDG), Rasmus Hansson, when he was handed the results of newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN)’s poll at the end of August. It showed the Greens with 6 percent of the vote, nearly double what it had reaped in the last national election in 2013. And it’s grown since then, with some polls showing 6.5 percent of the vote. That’s more than the Liberals, the Socialist Left (SV), the Christian Democrats and the Center Party and the Reds could claim, even though some of them have been part of national government coalitions.

The Greens slipped a bit this week, and didn’t perform quite as well as expected in Tuesday’s important school elections, which often reflect the results of actual elections. It’s generally agreed now, though, that the Greens are a force to be reckoned with, at both the national and local levels of government, with the latter to be decided at Monday’s election for at least the next four years.

Need for a ‘new society’
“Steadily more people see the point of our policies, that we have to create a new society, nothing less,” Hansson told DN, in answering his own question upon seeing new poll results. “It’s a constructive assignment that contains heaps of good opportunities. I think people are glad there’s a party that doesn’t only see that the future is green, but that we need to begin creating it at once.”

The Greens want, among other things, to create bicycle lanes instead of new roads for vehicles, and basically move Norway away from being an economy and society dependent on oil production. Their so-called “green shift” started before the last national elections, when Hansson won a seat in Parliament. Now the party stands to gain local government power in Oslo and a host of other cities around the country.

Greens leader Rasmus Hansson is well aware that his party is "stressing" many of Norway's more traditional parties. PHOTO: Miljøpartiet De Grønne

Greens leader Rasmus Hansson is well aware that his party is “stressing” many of Norway’s more traditional parties. PHOTO: Miljøpartiet De Grønne

DN noted that a sure sign of the Greens’ surging popularity is all the criticism the party has been getting from the Liberals (Venstre), who have accused them of irresponsible economic policies, and SV, which recently accused them of poor social welfare policies. “I think the attacks on us are a combination of the fact that we’re growing in the opinion polls and that the power of our arguments stresses the other parties,” Hansson reasoned. “And because it’s exhausting to insist that investing NOK 214 billion in new oil activity also amounts to a green shift. There are quite a few voters who don’t think that’s convincing. The Liberal Party (which lost 1.4 points while the Greens gained 3.2) is the most stressed, because we are challening their own green growth model.”

Leaning to the left
The Greens, generally defined as being on the left side of Norwegian politics, also want to further expand Norway’s subsidized day care centers, hire more teachers and prevent private businesses from taking over operation of municipally run nursing homes. Newspaper Aftenposten reported this week, though, that they are willing to negotiate on most all issues if they can prevail on enough green policies in return. In Oslo, the party is firmly against expansion of the heavily trafficked E18 highway running west from the capital, for example, and would compromise on other issues if they can muster support to block a widening of the major artery.

With the race for government power in Oslo running extremely close between the incumbent Conservatives and Labour, the Greens look likely to decide which of the two large parties will be able to form a coalition with the smaller parties. Commentators are speculating that could usher Labour into office, since the Conservatives currently rule in Oslo with the Liberals, and the Greens have been luring away their voters more than from any other party. Mayor Fabian Stang from the Conservatives is perhaps the incumbents’ best card, but voters don’t seem inspired by the Conservatives’ city government leader Stian Berger Røsland, and he also was heavily criticized for pushing for a highly unpopular Winter Olympics project that finally was dropped last year.

Radical green measures
In most Norwegian cities, the Greens want to all but prevent private cars from entering downtown areas, impose tolls much bigger than the roughly NOK 43 (USD 5.25) it already costs to drive into Oslo from the west, remove most street parking and convert entire streets into cycling paths. In Bergen, Labour is also posing a major challenge to the incumbent Conservatives there, and could form a government with the Greens’ support.

The Greens formed in Norway as early as 1988, but have only gained momentum in the past few years. The party’s candidates for local office have joked that they’re considered “veterans” if they’ve been party members just since 2011. They’re more popular in the cities than in rural districts, with their average 5-6 percent of the vote nationwide reaching as high as 9 percent in Oslo and Trondheim, according to newspaper Dagsavisen’s poll calculations.

The bigger parties are fighting back, with Labour in Oslo stressing the need for a property tax to finance improvements to elder care and claiming they’re environmentally oriented, too, even though Labour has long been a big booster of the oil industry because of the jobs it creates. Labour is also tapping some local celebrities for spots in the city government it wants to create in the capital, including high-profile defense attorney Geir Lippestad and Frode Kyvåg, the long-time head of the world’s largest youth football tournament, Norway Cup.

Polls indicate the Conservatives, meanwhile, have been losing support in both Oslo and Bergen as has Norway’s most conservative party, the Progress Party. The public has been turning its back on the Progress Party’s opposition to taking in more refugees, and it’s fallen from its command of 16.3 percent of the vote in the last national election to just around 10 percent in recent polls. Berglund