Liberal Party logs leap in popularity

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Members of Norway’s small and, until recently, struggling Liberal Party (Venstre) could head into the weekend smiling. After months of poor showings in the polls, they jumped a relatively whopping 3.5 points in a new voter survey. If the results had been an election, Venstre would have won 14 seats in Parliament, compared to its current two.

Trine Skei Grande after being re-elected leader of Norway's Liberal Party (Venstre) at the party's recent national meeting. Now the party is enjoying a surge in the polls. PHOTO: Venstre

“This is very encouraging,” party leader Trine Skei Grande told newspaper Aftenposten. “This indicates folks want a real change in government power, with better environmental policies and more humane asylum policies.”

Grande was referring to two areas where the current left-center government coalition led by the Labour Party has caught criticism: Long delays in getting the coalition’s three parties (the Socialist Left (SV) and the Center Party (Sp) in addition to Labour) to agree on how to cut carbon emissions, and controversy over the deportation of rejected refugees whose children have been born and reared in Norway.

Venstre now has 7.8 percent of the vote according to a public opinion poll conducted by research firm Respons for Aftenposten just after Venstre held its annual national meeting last weekend. That’s up from 4.3 percent in the last Aftenposten poll, but the party also had slipped to as low as 3.7 percent in another recent poll. That’s under the benchmark 4 percent level required for representation in parliament.

The only other party logging a gain was the Conservative Party (Høyre), which rose 0.4 points to 32.9 percent. That put the Conservatives slightly ahead of Labour (Arbeiderpartiet), which won 31.6 percent of the vote, down 0.5 points.

Venstre has been leaning towards a government cooperation with the Conservatives, or supporting a non-socialist coalition that might include the Conservatives and the party that’s Norway’s most conservative, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). The Progress Party slipped 0.5 percent to land at 11 percent of the vote.

Venstre’s sudden emergence as Norway’s fourth-largest party may not last, but it’s an important sign that it may tip the balance in its traditional role at the center of Norwegian politics. It’s now bigger than other parties that once almost dwarfed it, like the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkepartiet, KrF), which only wound up with 4 percent of the vote. Government parties SV and Sp also slipped, to 3.7 and 5.2 percent respectively.

Venstre leader Grande said her party’s goal is to share government power with the Conservatives and KrF. Right now they collectively hold more voter support than the government parties do, and may get support from Frp as well. The next parliamentary elections will be held in September 2013.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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