Progress Party falls to new low

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Norway’s conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) continues to suffer in the polls in the run-up to local elections across the country this autumn, as nearly 30 percent of those who voted for Frp in the 2009 general election have deserted them for the rival Conservative Party.

Frp leader Siv Jensen could not have wished for worse news on her return from hospital treatment for a broken back. PHOTO: Fremskrittspartiet

In a poll conducted for newspaper Aftenposten this month, Frp fell by a further three percentage points to 14.9 percent of the vote share, down 8 full percentage points from the 22.9 percent they achieved in the 2009 general election. The latest figures come in the wake of polls done for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that placed the party at just 13.6 percent last month.

Frp’s loss is Conservative Party’s gain
Per Arne Olsen, the deputy leader of Frp, told Aftenposten that “there is no reason to hide that this is bad.” The poll was taken after the party’s leader, Siv Jensen, was taken into hospital for a broken back, and Olsen believes that rumours that she might not be able to take part in the forthcoming local elections “could of course have had an influence on the numbers.”

The biggest beneficiary of Frp’s downturn has been a fellow right-wing party – the Conservative Party (Høyre) – which now stands at 32.5 percent as Norway’s largest party after jumping forward by 5.1 percent points since May. This compares with the 17.2 percent they managed in the 2009 parliamentary race. The Conservatives are now 4.1 percentage points ahead of the Labour Party, which has traditionally been the country’s biggest political grouping.

Reacting to their continued development in the polls, the Conservative Party’s Jan Tore Sanner told Aftenposten that the results represent “a big vote of confidence and inspiration for us, both locally and centrally.” He also stressed to newspaper VG that his party had “taken more voters from the Labour Party than Frp” as part of their recent upturn. Election researcher Bernt Aardal told Aftenposten that the Conservatives’ improvements could be attributed to the mantra that “nothing succeeds like success,” as the party “have been on the way up since 2009.” He suggests that the party has also effectively “wrestled from Frp the position as a gathering point for opposition.”

Internal strife
Meanwhile, Frp was also dealing with revelations of internal strife in recent days. Reports suggest increasing tension between leader Jensen and high-profile Oslo mayoral candidate Carl I. Hagen, who feels he should be used far more by the party nationally. He and many others in the party reportedly believe that his fame and national profile was under-utilized in the 2009 general election as Jensen tried to create her own leadership style. A former adviser to Jensen, Jan Fredrik Vogt, told VG that “what is happening now is a tremor more than a crisis situation, but if the party leadership doesn’t listen to the grassroots, it could become more serious.” He suggested that Jensen rarely called Hagen for advice, and that party general secretary Geir Mo has far too much influence over Jensen despite holding an unelected position within the party. Indeed, he criticized Mo for his handling of a sex scandal that began the party’s drop in the polls, as well as criticizing Jensen for allowing the secretary general to take over the situation.

Hagen himself has suggested that the media “have interpreted my criticism of having too little a role in 2009 as a criticism of my involvement before the election in 2011” and claimed that he had not intended to attack the party leadership. He nonetheless suggested that “it was stupid” that he was less involved in 2009, while adding that his criticism of his participation had been “directed at me and others.” Party general secretary Mo felt it necessary to defend his leader, stating that “the only thing that could have hindered Hagen from taking part in the 2009 election was his own priorities and his own time management.” Deputy leader Olsen was also annoyed at the talk of internal problems, telling newspaper VG that “every day I have to comment on internal relationships in the party, instead of pointing out the big challenges we have in health and transport, is a bad day.”

Hagen had previously described his party’s descent in the polls as “awful” to Aftenposten. But Hagen’s own popularity has taken a hit in recent times, with a poll on the Oslo mayoral race in February showing that he could count on just 8 percent of people to vote for him. Among party members and voters, Hagen nevertheless remains popular – a survey for VG found that 53 percent of Frp voters wanted him to be used more in this year’s elections, and both he and Jensen received the same total (42.8 percent) when voters were asked who was most likely to command the highest vote in the autumn.

Bad news for the red-greens too
One consolation for Frp might be the fact that if the poll result was repeated at a general election, the Conservative Party and Frp would have a majority over the governing red-green coalition and therefore be able to form a right-wing government together. The poll result gives the two main right-wing parties 90 members of parliament in total, compared to just 62 for the current governing parties.

Indeed, the results were particularly bad news for the small governing Socialist Left Party, as they received just 3.8 percent when voters were asked who they would support in a parliamentary election. This means the party has fallen below the 4 percent minimum required to guarantee parliamentary representation. The party’s deputy leader, Bård Vegar Solhjell, admitted to Aftenposten that the party had been struggling “for a good while” in the polls, adding that the membership “must pull ourselves together if we want to manage to undertake a local election at the same level as the last.”

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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