Labour grows, partner SV shrinks

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A right-wing terrorist’s attempt to literally kill off Norway’s Labour Party has instead breathed new life into it. Labour (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) attracted record numbers of new, paying members last year, while its government coalition partner SV has shrunk to the point of losing its right to representation in Parliament.

Labour still doesn't have the same level of voter support it won in the last national election, 35.4 percent, but it reclaimed votes in the latest poll. Here, on election night in 2009, (from left) party leaders Helga Pedersen, Jens Stoltenberg and Raymond Johansen. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Nearly 10,000 Norwegians joined the Labour Party last year, many of them after confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik bombed government headquarters and killed scores more at Labour’s youth summer camp on July 22. Labour was expected to draw sympathy votes, but party leaders have preferred to view the growth as condemnation of Breivik’s attempt to halt Labour’s support of Norway’s emerging multi-cultural society, and general support for democracy.

“This is very inspiring and promising for our work heading into the (national) election in 2013,” said Labour Party Secretary Raymond Johansen. “So many new members during just one year is historically high.”

The membership growth cements Labour’s position as the largest in the land, with 55,869 paying members as of December 31, representing net growth of 6,462 members from the year before. Several other parties also reported membership growth in the weeks after the terrorist attacks, including the conservative Progress Party. “The toughest punishment the terror defendant can get is to see democracy grow and that more people choose to engage themselves in political parties,” Progress Party leader Siv Jensen told newspaper Dagsavisen at the time.

Growth in the polls, too
Voter support for Labour also has grown, according to a new public opinion poll conducted by polling firm Norstatt for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Labour jumped 2.8 points from NRK’s poll in December to claim 34.9 percent of the vote, well ahead of its nearest challenger and Norway’s next-biggest party, the Conservatives (Høyre), which drew 28.1 percent of the vote. Third-biggest was the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), with 15.8 percent in the new January poll.

One of Labour’s two government coalition partners, however, the Socialist Left party (SV), fell once again, to a lowly 3.5 percent of the vote. That’s under the 4 percent level demanded for representation in Parliament, if such a result occurred in a national election. As it is, it would leave the party with only one representative in parliament (Stortinget).

Labour’s other partner, the Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp), also suffered another decline, to 4.9 percent of the vote in NRK’s January poll. That means that despite Labour’s growth, the three government parties together currently have just 43.3 percent of the vote, less than the combined strength of the opposition parties in parliament.

SV’s parliamentary leader, former government minister Bård Vegard Solhjell, called recent poll results “much too low” and said he doesn’t think SV is getting enough credit for its work in the government. It’s the second poll in the past week that put SV under what’s called the sperregrensen, in this case, the minimum level of voter support for seats in parliament. The small Liberal Party (Venstre) also remained under the level, with 3.7 percent of the vote, while the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF), rose slightly to 6.1 percent.

Solhjell said SV would work to boost its profile on important causes, including environmental protection. NRK’s political analyst Magnus Takvam suggested, though, that SV has been stamped as a “loser,” and that it’s not unusual that voters turn to the larger, “secure” parties like Labour and the Conservatives during turbulent times, at the expense of the smaller parties.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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