Alarms ring for ruling coalition

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Despite brave smiles in public, the results of more public opinion polls are setting off alarm bells, if not death tolls, for the left-center government coalition that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has led for the past seven years. Less than 5 percent of Norwegian voters now say they want the current three-party coalition to retain government power.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (center) still puts on a brave smile, as do top politicians from his coalition partners, but the government he leads is struggling to retain voter support. PHOTO: regjeringen.no

The latest poll, conducted by research firm Sentio for the rural-oriented newspaper Nationen, indicates that only 4.3 percent of Norwegian voters want the so-called “red-green” coalition to win next fall’s national election. That doesn’t necessarily mean voters are rejecting Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his Labour Party, though: 13.5 percent of voters responding to the Sentio poll prefer a one-party Labour government with Stoltenberg still in charge, without his much smaller partners the Socialist Left (SV) and the Center Party (Sp).

The Labour-only bloc was the largest but not by much: 13.3 percent of voters questioned want the Conservative Party to form a government on its own. The next most likely alternative seemed to be a government formed by the Conservatives and the more Conservative Progress Party. Only 3.7 percent preferred a Conservative-led coalition including smaller non-socialist parties like the Christian Democrats and the Liberals.

Poor numbers all around
Voters, according to the polls, have lost faith in the current coalition’s ability to rule given its members’ ongoing disagreement on key issues. Labour has been criticized, for example, for giving in to its much smaller partners on the recent move to raise import tariffs to further protect Norwegian agriculture, but also has been branded as “arrogant” for not giving in often enough to the wishes of its smaller partners. Claims of arrogance also have risen over suggestions that Labour hasn’t taken a recent string of charges against some of its top politicians seriously enough.

Another poll late last week, conducted for newspaper Vårt Land, showed Labour falling to just 25.6 percent of voter support in October. A parallel poll for newspaper VG, one of Norway’s biggest papers, put Labour’s support at just 27.6 percent. A poll by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) placed voter support for Labour at 26.4 percent. All those numbers are down from Labour’s 35.4 percent in the election that swept Stoltenberg’s Labour-led coalition into power in 2009 and from 34.7 percent as late as January this year.

‘Too low’
“This is too low,” Labour secretary Raymond Johansen admitted to newspaper Dagsavisen. He claims, though, that Labour still has time to turn around public opinion before the election next September. He thinks public opinion remains low because of the harsh criticism over Norway’s emergency preparedness, as described in the government’s own commissioned report on the July 22 terrorist attacks last year, and because of the recent string of bad news for Labour, from one of its mayor’s ongoing trial on sexual assault charges to charges of camaraderie against Trade Minister Trond Giske.

Some Labour Party faithful also reportedly are questioning the viability of the current coalition, raising the possibility of whether Labour should “go it alone” in the election campaign. Both of its small coalition partners have had less than the voter support needed for representation in Parliament, despite a jump by SV over the weekend, nd

Meanwhile, the non-socialist opposition parties in Parliament continue to moderate their positions to woo away socialist party voters. Even the Progress Party recently proposed allowing homosexuals to marry and adopt children. Most polls still show a clear majority for the Conservatives and the Progress Party.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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