Prime minister more popular than ever

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Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg seems to be even more popular now than when she effectively won re-election four weeks ago. That’s not directly helping her form a new conservative government coalition, but it gives her a welcome boost.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg was triumphant on election night last month but now faces challenges putting together another conservative government coalition with majority support. She said on Wednesday that NRK’s new poll boosted her self-confidence. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“Så hyggelig (how nice),” responded Solberg after being told that a new public opinion poll conducted by research Norstat for state broadcaster NRK showed that she now has support from just over half the Norwegian population. While her ratings have climbed since last summer, her arch rival Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party has continued to lose support.

In a country with nine political parties winning representation in Parliament, it’s unusual for the leader of any single party to win the confidence of more than 50 percent of all voters. Solberg has done so for the first time, albeit with just 50.2 percent agreeing that she is best-suited to lead the country. That compares to  34.8 percent who think Støre is best-suited, though, giving Solberg a solid lead. Støre’s Labour Party also suffered its worst election results in many years, winning just 27.4 percent of the vote in the September parliamentary election.

Solberg’s party won even less, with 25 percent of the vote, raising questions over why more didn’t actually vote for her and her party last month when so many favour her now. Election researchers point to so-called “tactical voting” for other non-socialist parties, not least the Liberals (Venstre), which collectively gave the entire non-socialist side a majority over Støre’s Labour-led coalition.

That also gave Solberg the green light to form another non-socialist coalition to lead Norway for the next four years. She’s facing huge challenges, though, since neither of her two small support parties (the Liberals and Christian Democrats) have been willing to enter into another support agreement. The Liberals are still evaluating whether to actually join Solberg’s government coalition led by her Conservatives with the Progress Party as her partner. The Christian Democrats have decided to join the opposition in Parliament, with a promise not to immediately topple Solberg’s government.

‘Encouraging’
It’s all left Solberg in a complicated and challenging position, with commentators claiming that the two small parties are spoiling her chances of leading with firm majority in Parliament. All the more reason that the new poll made her smile: “It’s encouraging to know that you have the people behind you,” she told NRK Wednesday morning. She added that she was prepared for more challenging days ahead: “A prime minister must make difficult choices and stand up for issues that not everyone is enthusiastic about. So the support will go up and down.”

Støre, meanwhile, seemed to take his latest dose of bad news on the popularity front in stride. As he tries to rebuild his defeated party and place its top politicians in key committee roles in Parliament, Støre told NRK that it was “quite understandable” that Solberg would gain more popularity after the election that allowed her to continue as prime minister, at least for now. Both Støre and the leaders of left-leaning parties in Parliament have vowed to topple her at the first opportunity, by proposing new legislation that she’s likely to oppose but the centrist Christian Democrats (with the swing vote) may support.

Støre said he was now looking forward to “getting back to politics, issues and what we work with in Parliament,” instead of polls and party maneuvering. Other new polls, however, have also showed the Conservatives gaining on Labour, and even exceeding its current voter support.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund