Liberal Party leader gives up

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Lars Sponheim, a former government minister and the outspoken leader of the Liberal Party

(Venstre) , said Monday night he would resign after his small but noisy party chalked up disastrous election results.Sponheim’s party is on the left side of the non-socialist parties in Norway, and even thoughthe Liberals have only ever had around 5-6 percent of the vote, the party has played a pivotal role in Norwegian politics.

As a swing party, it’s been able to help tip the balance regarding which side, socialist or non-socialist, can form a government. That’s given him power seemingly out of proportion to his support from voters.

On Monday, the small amount of voters he did have abandoned him, giving the Liberals less than 4 percent of the vote and therefore not enough to win representation in parliament. By 11pm it appeared Sponheim himself would lose his long-held seat in parliament. There was no question that he was Election Night’s big loser.

“No, it didn’t become the night we’d wanted,” Sponheim told his followers. He said he had no good explanation for the lack of support given his party, but he admitted that his call for fewer and larger townships in Norway wasn’t popular.

Political commentators suggested that Sponheim and the Liberals lost votes to a resurgent Conservative Party (Høyre) . Voters who had the environment at the top of their agendas opted for the Socialist Left instead of the Liberals.Others claimed Sponheim chose the wrong campaign tactics. He repeatedly vowed he would never cooperate with the Progress Party, the largest party on the non-socialist side. That infuriated not only the Progress Party but many voters, who saw Sponheim as being too rigid and unwilling to recognize the Progress Party’s strength. His claim that he would rather support a socialist government than a non-socialist government that included the Progress Party seems to have backfired.

His poor performance also dashes plans for the Liberals to join with the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats to form a non-socialist government. The Christian Democrats logged their worst performance ever with just 5.3 percent of the vote with more than half of all townships reporting.

As election results rolled in Monday night, margins remained extremely narrow and the race was tight. The incumbent left-center coalition led by the Labour Party, however, maintained a stable if slight majority. By 11:15pm, Labour had 35.6 percent of the vote and 65 seats in parliament, four more than it has now. Its government partners, the Socialist Left and the Center Party, lost ground but together the three parties had 87 seats and 48.3 percent of the vote.

That’s more than the 39.7 percent that the Progress Party and the Conservatives could claim together. The Progress Party, however, was claiming its best election result ever, with 22.7 percent, and the Conservatives were declaring themselves the party that gained the most from its last election showing, with 17 percent.

(See election results story, Four more years with Jens )