Høyre faces tough coalition-building

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NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre) is leading the pre-election campaign race in public opinion polls, but doesn’t want to lead a new government alone. Party boss Erna Solberg faces a tough time building a solid coalition with the country’s other non-socialist parties, though: One thing is getting them to agree on key issues, another is satisfying everyone’s desires for ministerial posts.

Erna Solberg, leader of Norway's Conservative Party, with her two deputies Jan Tore Sanner (left) and Bent Høie. All are expected to have top ministerial posts in a new Conservative-led government, with Sanner likely in charge of business and trade and Høie as health minister. Solberg would be prime minister. PHOTO: Høyre/Tomas Moss

Erna Solberg, leader of Norway’s Conservative Party, with her two deputies Jan Tore Sanner (left) and Bent Høie during the weekend meeting. All are expected to have top ministerial posts in a new Conservative-led government, with Sanner likely in charge of business and trade and Høie as health minister. Solberg would be prime minister. PHOTO: Høyre/Tomas Moss

The Conservatives ended their three-day national meeting over the weekend with a long list of voting on key issues. As expected, the party supported a military draft for both men and women, for example. It thus agreed with the position adopted by most other parties during this year’s round of political meetings, a clear indication that such a law will go through parliament.

Høyre delegates also voted that local governments be able to set their own limits on the opening hours for bars, that a fund be set up to finance transportation improvements through its returns, that employers be able to hire more temporary workers and that more local governments be merged to reduce bureaucracy and improve efficiency.

For more on Høyre’s positions in their words, click here (external link).

Erna Solberg making a point during her party's national meeting during the weekend. The party slogan on the podium reads "New ideas, better solutions." PHOTO: Høyre/Tomas Moss

Erna Solberg making a point during her party’s national meeting during the weekend. The party slogan on the podium reads “New ideas, better solutions.” PHOTO: Høyre/Tomas Moss

The main issue on everyone’s minds, though, was how to transform an expected good showing on Election Day September 9 into a Høyre-led government. Public opinion polls show Høyre as the largest party in the country at present, ahead of the Labour Party that leads the current left-center coalition. Høyre leader Solberg wants to be prime minister in a new right- or center-right government but admits it won’t be easy forming a new coalition even if her party wins the election.

Since it’s unlikely that any single party in Norway can gain more than 50 percent of the vote and have its own majority in Parliament (Stortinget), because there are so many parties, Solberg wants to have at least one government partner and preferably lead a four-party coalition. “I would prefer leading a government that has a majority in parliament,” Solberg told newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend. Her first choice is to lead a government coalition made up of Høyre, the more conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), the Liberal Party (Venstre) and the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF).

It’s possible that Høyre and Frp will win a majority alone, meaning Norway would have its most right-wing government ever. Some of the voting and speeches at Høyre’s weekend meeting, however, offended Frp, with its leader Siv Jensen even branding her potential government partner as “arrogant” because it already seemed to dismiss Frp’s ideas for financing road improvements. Most political analysts think a Høyre/Frp government is unlikely.

Quarreling already
There are squabbles among the other parties as well, not least between Frp and KrF, so Solberg will have a hard time building consensus on everything from tax to free market to family issues. An even greater challenge, though, will be negotiating ministerial seats.

The Conservatives don’t want more than 20 ministers in the government, and will likely demand at least 10 themselves, reported newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Coalition partners would want their number of seats to reflect election results, meaning Frp would stand to get at least twice the number of seats as either KrF or the Liberals, since Frp is at least twice their size.

But neither KrF nor the Liberals are likely to settle for just two ministerial posts each. They would negotiate for more influence on government policy, despite their small portions of voter support.

“The mathematics will be difficult,” Solberg conceded to DN. One solution would be for Høyre to accept fewer seats itself, but that would leave it with less than half the ministerial posts in its own government. Høyre is likely to at least get many of the most important posts, like those of foreign, trade, health and labour ministers. Siv Jensen of Frp is often mentioned as a top candidate for finance minister, with her party colleague Anders Anundsen heading the justice ministry.

The other solution would be for Høyre to form a non-socialist coalition without Frp, clearing the way for a clear majority of posts with perhaps three or four allotted to KrF and the Liberals each.

It’s ultimately up to the voters to decide, Solberg has stressed, even though small parties with only around 5 percent of the vote would once again wind up in powerful positions within the government. That seems to reflect the power of politics more than the will of the voters.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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