‘Election thrillers’ nationwide

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More than half-a-million eligible voters in Norway had already cast their ballots in advance by the time Election Day finally rolled around on Monday. The races for local government control are so close in several of Norway’s cities that analysts and commentators are calling them “election thrillers” that may be too close to call for quite a while after polls close Monday night.

There was a steady stream of voters at this polling place in Oslo's Frogner district on Sunday, when voting opened from 1pm to 6pm. Polls opened early on Monday, Norway's official Election Day this year, and will stay open until 9pm. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

There was a steady stream of voters at this polling place in Oslo’s Frogner district on Sunday, when voting opened from 1pm to 6pm. Polls opened early on Monday, Norway’s official Election Day this year, and would stay open until 9pm. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“The races in Oslo and Bergen are most exciting,” election researcher Johannes Bergh told newspaper Dagsavisen just before the weekend. On a national basis, Bergh thinks the breakthrough of the climate- and environmentally oriented Greens Party (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDG) is the single most important factor in Norway’s mid-term elections this time around.

“The Greens have existed for quite a while, and they emerged seriously in the national elections two years ago,” Bergh said. “But in these elections, they have candidates for local government in municipalities all over the country, and the public opinion polls indicate they’ll win many new city council seats. That would give them a national foothold they haven’t had before.”

They also may end up in the powerful position of being the swing vote that decides whether cities, including Oslo, will end up with a conservative or soacialist coalition government. The Greens have refused to say how they’ll allign themselves, but most analysts think it will be on the left.

The most unpredictable, and arguably important, race has been playing out in Oslo, where the Conservatives have held power for 18 years. With a Conservative coalition now in place at the national level as well, many have predicted the Conservative coalition incumbents in Oslo would retain power. Labour, though, has posed a major challenge and polls have showed them in the lead on several occasions by voters simply wanting a change despite Labour’s campaign to introduce property tax in the capital.

Labour dipped in nationwide polls just before the weekend and many voters in Oslo can’t even name who Labour’s candidate for mayor is (the relatively unknown Tone Tellevik Dahl) because Labour’s campaign in Oslo has centered on its candidate to head city government (the politically more powerful post of byrådsleder), the much more well-known Raymond Johansen. That’s effectively pitted Johansen against Oslo’s popular and high-profile Conservative Mayor Fabian Stang instead of the Conservatives’ own incumbent candidate for byrådsleder, Stian Berger Røsland.

Politicians from all the major parties running in the election seemed mostly worried about the rain that was falling over much of southern Norway on Monday, fearing it would keep some voters from heading to the polls. Researcher Jo Thori Lind at the state economic institute, however, said that rain can actually spur voter turnout in Norway, telling newspaper Aftenposten that “folks find other things to do when the weather is nice.” Several parties were offering transportation to the polls, not least after commentators and analysts said over the weekend that several races were so close they could be decided by as few as 400 votes. Those opting not to vote, they said, could therefore effectively decide outcomes by sheer apathy.

Voter turnout in Norway, though, remains relatively strong in comparison to many other countries, with 64 percent of those eligible casting ballots in the last local elections four years ago. Fully 491,688 had already voted in advance as of last Thursday night and the number surpassed a half-million on Friday, the last day for early voting. Polls also opened early in 192 municipalities nationwide on Sunday, so that voters could cast ballots without having to stand in line on Monday or be absent from work.

Polls close at 9m and then the parties will launch their festive valgvaker (election night gatherings to follow the returns). Several non-partisan gatherings were also planned this year, for example at Litteraturhuset in Oslo (called Folkets valgvake) and at the nightclub Blå along the Aker River dokwntown.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund