Norwegians headed for the polls on Monday September 14, with the race wide open. More than a half-dozen parties have been battling for seats in Parliament but it looked unlikely that any single party would get enough votes to rule alone. Deal-making loomed, as parties on the right, left and center looked set to form coalitions in an attempt to form a government. “Views and News” compiled the following overview of the parties’ platforms.
Norway’s economy has held up well during the global financial crisis, it still ranks as one of the best countries in the world in which to live, and even the New York Times crowed last spring that Norway seemed amazingly well-run.
So why, outsiders might ask, isn’t the incumbent left-center coalition certain of re-election? The coalition is made up of the Labour Party, the Socialist Left and the Center Party in a solidly social welfare state. They arguably shouldn’t have to be fighting for their political lives after four of the most prosperous years the country has ever seen.
Wrong. While Norwegians candidly admit they have a habit of complaining and love to endlessly debate issues, there’s a serious undercurrent of dissatisfaction among the masses. Some want more of the “cradle to grave security” they think they’re still supposed to get given all the taxes they pay. There’s an increasing realization it no longer exists. Others want more personal freedom, and to keep more of their own money instead of being forced to hand large portions of it over to the state for redistribution. They don’t think the redistribution always works the way it’s intended.
As a result, Labour, the Socialist Left and the Center Party face severe challenges from the Progress Party (Norway’s most conservative party) and the Conservatives themselves, who’ve been courting one another for months but can’t seem to form a firm non-socialist alliance. Lurking in the background are the smaller non-socialist Liberal and Christian Democrat parties plus the ultra-socialist Reds. Tiny as they are, with single-digit support among the voters, they demand attention because they can tip the balance and be the swing votes on either formation of a government or on individual issues in Parliament.
Voters can only vote for one party, however, without having much say in all the coalition-building sure to follow. So here’s the low-down on each party, from biggest to smallest:The Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet)
Motto: Alle skal med (roughly, “Everyone included”)
Labour stresses “fellesskapet,” the society as a whole, over the individual. Party faithful call themselves “social democrats” and claim they’re committed to liberty, democracy and social justice. Labour won 32.7 percent of the vote in the last election in 2005 and has been holding 61 of 169 seats in Parliament. Its leader, Jens Stoltenberg, is Norway’s current prime minister and arguably more popular than his party. Labour stresses integration and “jobs for everyone,” adequate health care funding and, lately, nursing home beds for all who need them. Labour also likes to portray itself as environmentally conscious but has refused to say whether it supports or opposes oil exploration off the scenic areas of Lofoten and Vesterålen in northern Norway. Labour under Stoltenberg is known to support EU membership, but has been forced to drop the issue because of its government alliance with anti-EU parties SV and Sp.The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp)
Motto: Frp fornyer Norge (Frp will renew Norway)
The feisty Progress Party has evolved from being a small protest party into Norway’s second largest, having consistently hung on to as much as 30 percent of the vote for months, according to opinion polls. It claims it’s the only party to offer “real change,” and it stresses elder care, support for the police, more privatization and a reduction of state shares in private companies, more use of oil revenues and tax cuts on everything from car registration and tolls to annual license fees for Norwegian Broadcasting. It’s best known for urging stricter policies against immigration but claims it’s not racist, rather that Norway faces a huge challenge integrating immigrants already in Norway. The party is often accused of being populist. Its leaders, including the charismatic Siv Jensen, claim it’s simply in favour of reflecting what “most folks” (folk flest) mean and want. It has refused to take a stand on the issue of EU membership, saying that’s up to the people to decide through a referendum.The Conservatives (Høyre)
Motto: Trygghet og optimisme (Security and optimism)
For years, the Conservatives were seen as the main rival to Labour. Lately the Progress Party has taken over that role, and the Conservatives began to seem more centrist. Now they’re on the offensive, urging more cooperation among the non-socialist parties to trim taxes, support business and improve the schools. Høyre’s strategists see taxes, education and transportation issues as most important, vowing to relieve individual tax burdens, make sure students can read when leaving the public schools and improve transportation. The party remains business-friendly and also supports EU membership, criticizing other parties (not least the Progress Party) for keeping debate on the issue under wraps. Høyre lately has been able to claim around 16 percent of the vote.The Socialist Left (Sosialistisk Venstre parti, SV)
Motto: Ulike mennesker. Like muligheter (Different people. Equal opportunities.)
SV, led by current Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, wants a society “without class differences and social injustice.” The party also stresses ecological sustainability and is viewed as environmentally conscious. It claims the environment, education and equal rights are its most important issues and it’s firmly against oil exploration off Lofoten and Vesterålen. Halvorsen has said that if the left-center coalition returns to power, she will convince Labour to oppose any oil drilling off Lofoten as well. SV, which had 8.8 percent of the vote in 2005 and lately has been holding around 7.5 percent, has actually called this year’s election campaign a campaign for the environment. Meanwhile, Halvorsen has won praise for her handling of the financial crisis, which the left-center coalition countered with some major public works programs. SV is also the only party that has said it will raise taxes to achieve its goals. SV is firmly against joining the EU and has long been skeptical towards Norway’s membership in NATO.The Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti)
Motto: Forskjørsrett for barna (roughly, “Children come first”)
This party claims it has a vision of building a society based on Christian and humanistic values. It’s anti-alcohol, anti-abortion, pro-family and in favour of “a more just distribution of earthly resources.” It’s been stressing flexible family leave options for those with small children, more resources for elder care, more foreign aid and measures against poverty both at home and outside Norway, and environmental protection measures in the latest campaign. Its former leader Kjell Magne Bondevik led the last non-socialist coalition and lost badly at the polls in 2005, with just 6.8 percent of the vote. Polls this past summer indicated support of less than 6 percent.The Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp)
Motto: Med hjerte for hele landet (The whole country in our hearts)
This party changed its name years ago but will probably always be viewed as the “farmers’ party.” It’s the champion of rural areas, the outlying districts in Norway that often feel ignored or at least overlooked by the powers that be in Oslo
and other cities. Sp supports protectionist policies to ease the threat of competition from imports, decentralization of government services outside of Oslo and aid in all forms to rural areas to keep them populated. Extremely anti-EU membership. Sp itself thinks the most important issues in this election are the need for more renewable energy sources, better transportation options, better schools and more welfare programs. It’s also keen to present itself as a champion of the environment, although it supports hunting wolves to protect Norwegian ranchers’ flocks. Sp has around 5 percent of the vote.The Liberal Party (Venstre)
Motto: Kunnskap, miljø, velferd (Knowledge, environment, welfare)
Venste has been holding less than 5 percent of the vote in recent public opinion polls, and even fell last summer under the 4 percent minimum needed for representation in parliament, but its leader Lars Sponheim nonetheless gets an enormous amount of coverage in Norwegian media. He’s also been a government minister in non-socialist coalitions, a powerful position seemingly out of proportion to Venstre’s support among the public, but it’s because Venstre can be the swing vote on key issues and exploits that role to the hilt. It sees itself as a more left-wing version of Høyre and has refused to cooperate with the Progress Party. It stresses environmental protection issues, support for education and social welfare. Venstre often appeals to affluent, intellectual Norwegians who think of themselves as socially conscious but a bit conservative at the same time.The Reds (Rødt)
Motto: En annen verden er mulig (Another world is possible)
This party has been using a campaign booth in Oslo that seems to glorify tagging. The party is the most left-wing of the established parties in Norway, a product of two earlier communist parties and committed to redistribution of wealth. The party has also been stressing its opposition to Norway’s involvement with NATO troops in Afghanistan and to the prospect of oil drilling off northern Norway.So, how would YOU vote, if you could cast a ballot in Norway? Click here to try outour sample poll,which can given an indication of how “Views and News” readers would contribute to the political makeup of Norway’s parliament.
Only immigrants who have become Norwegian citizens are allowed to vote in the actual upcoming election. All foreigners with residence permission in Norway can vote in local elections, but not in national elections or referenda.