Opposition courts political alliances

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Norway’s political opposition is well underway in forming both new and renewed alliances among parties keen on government power after next year’s parliamentary election. Christian Democrats leader Knut Arild Hareide is emerging as a powerful player in the middle of it all, since his party may well tip the balance.

It wasn't exactly a "kissing babies" form of gathering election support, but Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre was clearly fawning over Christian Democrats' leader Knut Arild Hareide's new baby during the last political campaign. Now Støre looks likely to court the Christian Democrats' support to form a new left-center government next year. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

It wasn’t exactly a “kissing babies” form of gathering election support, but Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre (right) was clearly fawning over Christian Democrats’ leader Knut Arild Hareide’s new baby during the last election campaign. Now Støre may court the Christian Democrats’ support to form a new left-center government next year. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

The Christian Democrats only hold around 5 percent of the vote at present, but that may be all that’s needed to sweep a new left-center government coalition into office. That can make Hareide much more powerful than his actual support among voters would suggest, as both the left- and right sides of Norwegian politics court his favour.

Labour, currently defiant and riding high in the polls, is still pursuing a dream of going it alone with a minority government. The Center Party wants to rule with Labour again, though, like it did between 2005 and 2013. Together they may win enough votes to form a minority coalition, especially if they also succeed in securing support from the Christian Democrats, which now cooperates with the current conservative government coalition. That could given them a majority in Parliament, not least if the Socialist Left party (SV) also maintains representation in Parliament and cooperates on various issues.

Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum has been wooing Labour for months, even backing Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre earlier this year when Støre’s wealthy family was criticized because his parents were staying in an expensive, private nursing home instead of relying on the public sector that Labour champions. Vedum made it clear last week what many had predicted for months: His small party, best known for representing farmers and sending state funds to outlying areas to keep them populated, wants to return to government power with Labour. The latest polls show Labour with just over 38 percent of the vote and the Center Party with around 7 percent. Support from the Christian Democrats would likely push them over 50 percent, with SV intensifying the swing to the left.

Lofoten drilling issue must be resolved
Labour currently aims to go it alone and form a purely Labour government, but commentators think the party is likely to be open to negotiations with others to form a majority coalition. It’s really all up to the Christian Democrats, which have tried to stay firmly in the center but have generally cooperated on the conservative side of Norwegian politics.

That conservative preference is challenged by the fact that the Christian Democrats still don’t get along with the Progress Party, Norway’s most right-leaning party that currently shares government power for the first time with the Conservatives. The two government coalition parties have had a cooperation agreement with both the Christian Democrats and the Liberals but it’s under severe pressure. Hareide, as leader of the Christian Democrats, has had major disagreements with his government partners: Hareide wants Norway to take in more Syrian refugees, for example, and ban oil drilling off Lofoten and other sensitive Arctic areas. He’s most often butting heads with Progress Party officials, while Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives tries to keep the peace.

While Labour appears open to cooperating in some form with the Christian Democrats, it’s by no means certain that Hareide’s followers want to cooperate with Labour. And there’s still the thorny issue of drilling off Lofoten: Strong forces within both Labour and the Center parties favour it because of the jobs it can create. Hareide would thus end up likely disagreeing with them, too.

The left-center side of Norwegian politics is keen to win government power away from the current conservative coalition, and debate was lively in Arendal Thursday night. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) carried the debate live, from a packed auditorium in Arendal. From right: Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, Socialist Left leader Audun Lysbakken and (partially hidden) Une Bastholm of the Greens. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (second from right) wants to team up with Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre (right) to win back government power.  At left, Socialist Left (SV) leader Audun Lysbakken, who could support a new left-center coalition. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Vedum stressed to newspaper Dagsavisen last week that “if you’re concerned with the entire country, offsetting differences and securing Norwegian ownership of Norway’s natural resources, there’s no doubt that a Center-Labour government is the answer. I think many in the Christian Democrats are concerned with these issues, too.” He noted that both his party and the Christian Democrats favour decentralization, which is why it’s also been hard for the Christian Democrats to support the current government’s push to merge local governments, consolidate police districts and deregulate the farming industry to help lower food prices.

Vedum and others also contend that the Center Party and the Christian Democrats share much the same values, also on medical ethics. “I think the Center Party is closest to us politically,” Ole Døvik, county leader for the Christian Democrats’ Vestfold chapter, told Dagsavisen. “That means a lot for the evaluations we need to make now. The fact that the Center Party and Labour are also close mean this (potential government cooperation) could be a good project.”

Solberg’s current government coalition, meanwhile, will likely do all it can to hang on to the Christian Democrats as a partner heading into the next election campaign. Negotiations over next year’s state budget will likely determine how much support the Christian Democrats get for their concerns. Solberg’s government has already backed down on drilling off Lofoten. If there’s plenty of money for a so-called “green shift” for the economy and more refugees, Hareide may stick to the right side of politics.

Labour leader Støre, who was introduced at his party’s recent national board meeting as “Norway’s next prime minister,”  told Dagsavisen that he thinks the Christian Democrats “have more to gain from our side of politics” than from the conservative side. “But no party likes being told how they should handle such discussions,” Støre said. “The Center Party and the Christian Democrats have a lot in common. If they deepen their discussions, it would be both positive and natural.” And, perhaps, give him the majority he needs to rule.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund