Voters face en election thriller despite 'yawn' of a campaign

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Norway’s opposition parties claim the government parties presented a re-election campaign platform this week that’s just “one big yawn.” Political analysts also blasted the government’s campaign kickoff, but the election itself looks set to be a thriller because the race is wide open.

Incumbent Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg leads a party, Labour (Arbeiderpartiet) , that currently leads in the polls but probably not by enough to let it rule alone. So he’s trying to keep his current three-party “red-green” government coalition intact heading into the September 14 election.

It won’t be easy. The three parties — Labour, the Socialist Left (SV) and the Center Party (Sp) — already disagree on a number of key issues. They like to present a united front, but internal struggles are rampant.

SV and Sp, for example, arefirmly opposed to oil drilling off scenic Lofoten and Vesterålen in northern Norway.Labour is non-committal and won’t take a stand until after the election. SV wants to raise taxes for affluent Norwegians, but Labour doesn’t. Sp is sympathetic to its rural constituency that wants to hunt wolves that threaten their livestock. SV wants to protect the wolves.Then there’sthe thorny issue of membership in the European Union.Stoltenberg’s more moderate wing of the Labour Party has long been open to joining the EU, but the leftist wing is opposed, as are both SV and Sp. That means the EU likely will be a non-issue for another four years if the coalition wins re-election.

And so it goes. It’s remarkable, in some ways, that Stoltenberg has held the coalition together for the past four years. Its members take turns compromising on some issues and simply agree to disagree on others, at the risk of nothing getting done.

They prefer in their platform to highlight the areas where they’re all in agreement: They oppose privatization of the schools, support more funding for transportation, health care, culture and climate protection, and promote programs that would create jobs.

There’s nothing new in any of it, claimed the leaders of the opposition Progress Party ( Fremskrittspartiet , second largest in the land after Labour) and the Conservatives (Høyre) . Analysts said Stoltenberg appeared “passive and boring” at the press conference, and that the government’s platform was much too predictable.

“Where’s the enthusiasm?” asked Anders Todal Jenssen, a political science professor and election researcher. He told newspaper Dagsavisen he thought the government’s platform was vague.

“They might just as well have said ‘we’re very satisfied with the state of things and we don’t see any big changes,'” he said. That, he fears, won’t engage voters.

Voters seeking change may flock to the relatively right-wing Progress Party, which in turn may itself be able to either rule alone or in a non-socialist coalition with the Conservatives. For once, Norway’s small but noisy parties may not get to play a very important role.

The current coalition, though, may be betting thatmost Norwegians are satisfied as welland don’t see any big need for change in the country. In which case, it may be cool to be boring.