Center Party also ‘polarizes’ rural areas

Not everyone living in rural areas is an ardent supporter of the Center Party, which is now posing a threat to the re-election of Norway’s conservative government coalition. One resident of  Telemark has claimed the party is also pitting rural communities against each other, while others complain about the disproportionate power of Norway’s small political parties in general.

New public opinion polls released this week showed another jump for the Center Party, to 9.1 percent of the vote, at the expense of many others. While it rose two full percentage points in newspaper Aftenposten’s poll released on Friday, the Progress Party lost exactly the same, down two points to claim just 13.4 percent of the vote. That’s down from the 16.3 percent it won in the 2013 election that ushered it in as one of Norway’s two conservative govenrment parties.

Its government coalition partner, the Conservatives, edged up 1.1 points, to 24.4 percent of the vote, after losing lots of ground from polls last year. Both of the government’s small support parties in Parliament, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, also fell, as did the Greens Party.

The Labour Party dipped as well but remains Norway’s largest single party, with 34.8 percent of the vote. Both of its partners in the former left-center government that held power from 2005 to 2013, the Center Party and Socialist Left (SV) gained, with SV rising to 4.3 percent of the vote.

New majority may be forming
It all means that Labour, SV and the Center Party would now claim more votes in Parliament than the current minority government coalition could muster, if the poll results were election results. Given polling trends of the past few months, several political analysts in Norway think the recent results might last until the September election, and push Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s government out of office.

The Center Party, while soaring in the polls on what many have claimed are tactics similar to those used by controversial US President Donald J Trump, remains highly unpopular in many quarters because of its tendencies towards protectionism, regulated markets and strictly controlled decentralization of the power base and public services. It has faced the most criticism, however, over its recent attempts to polarize urban and rural areas, and, claim some, rural areas themselves.

“Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum has a burning engagement for those of us who live outside downtown Oslo,” wrote Ådne Naper, who lives in a small town in Telemark County, in newspaper Dagsavisen recently. “Unfortunately he makes it very difficult for us politically, because he finds so little diversity within the districts.” Naper seeks some understanding for the fact that many residents of small- and medium-sized towns have interests that are in fact closer to those in the cities than the countryside.

‘Not all farmers with pitchforks’
“Vedum and the Center Party paint all of us outside Oslo as farmers with pitchforks who hate ‘experts’ and wine unless we have made it ourselves like moonshine, and who must have subsidized diesel in order to get around without going on welfare,” Naper wrote. “I land in the middle. In the city I’m a simple farmer. In the countryside, I’m an evil urbanist.”

Naper claimed Vedum and his Center Party fellows have caused problems for those, for example, who want to impose climate measures in towns like Skien in Telemark and Hamar in Hedmark by claiming that all restrictive climate measures hurt the districts, even though Skien and Hamar are part of the districts. Cities with populations of 20,000 or even more “lose out all the time,” he claimed.

Not all ‘wolf-haters,’ either
Naper, who became a member of SV, isn’t alone. Kari Wenche Fossum, who lives in Rena in the rural valley of Østerdalen, actually supports having a wolf population and doesn’t feel threatened by wolves, while the Center Party is fighting hard for a major wolf hunt. Fossum’s views are generally dismissed, she told Aftenposten, adding that “if you’ve even been close to Oslo, it’s as if you don’t have the right to an opinion.”

Tore Hansen, a resident of rural Grue in the forested area of Finnskogen in Hedmark, wrote a letter to the editor of Aftenposten last week complaining that he was also tired of the impressions made by the Center Party and the anti-wolf lobby, and reported in the media, that “those of us living here are a bunch of country bumpkins and fanatic wolf-haters, united in the demand to get rid of wolves. There are many of us here who don’t take part in the howling and see the necessity of having a wolf zone. I have lived here most of my life and have never heard anyone say they’re afraid to walk in the woods for fear of meeting a wolf.”

The Center Party has been among Norway’s small parties that often can decide major issues by providing the swing vote. They only need 4 percent of the vote in order to win representation in Parliament and concerns have long flown that they thus have a disproportionate amount of power. Investor Jan Haudemann-Andersen complained at a business conference last month that “we have a big problem in Norway with small, special interest parties. We should have a limit of 10 percent, not 4 percent.” That might land the Center Party in power anyway if its poll showings are confirmed in the next election.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund