NEWS ANALYSIS: Trine Skei Grande, head of the small Liberal Party (Venstre), seems to have changed her mind once again and reportedly is now willing to form a non-socialist coalition government with just the Conservative Party (Høyre) and the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). Venstre’s votes may be enough to put the three of them over the top, without the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF).
Last spring Grande had declared that her party wouldn’t participate in any Conservative-led coalition without KrF. Just last week, she added to the uncertainty over what a non-socialist coalition might look like when she said that neither Venstre nor KrF (both considered center-right parties) were likely to try to form a government that included Frp, which represents Norway’s version of the far right. The differences between Frp on the one side and Venstre and KrF on the other, Grande said, were just too big on such issues as immigration and the environment, with Frp taking a relatively hard line and Venstre and KrF urging more liberal policies.
Newspaper Aftenposten and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) were both reporting Friday, however, that now Grande may be ready to rule with Høyre and Frp after all. For the first time, Grande appears willing to dump her best political friends in KrF and head into a non-socialist with Høyre and Frp alone.
At an election campaign event at a high school in Sandvika on Thursday, Grande wouldn’t re-confirm that Venstre and KrF were unlikely to be able to rule with Frp. Asked whether she could clearly say to voters that she wouldn’t negotiate a coalition platform with Høyre and Frp and without KrF, Grande said that hinged on election results. “I can’t say that we’ll only go into a government with KrF if, for example, we do well and KrF loses representation in the parliament,” Grande told Aftenposten. “I can’t guarantee that.”
That indicates just how eager Grande actually is to win some government power, even though her party only has around 5 percent of the vote. Norway’s political system makes it possible for small parties to win powerful government ministerial posts, seemingly out of all proportion to their support among voters, as evidenced by the last eight years in which the small Center Party (Sp) and the Socialist Left (SV) have enjoyed government power with dominant Labour.
Grabbing its chance
Venstre now wants to grab its chance. The party, which has dipped so low in the polls and in recent elections that it risked losing representation in parliament itself, has been doing better lately, and Høyre and Frp may be able to claim a majority in parliament with the help of only one of the center-right parties. That likely has emboldened Grande. Her party’s desire to get into government is greater than KrF’s, which continues to publicly disagree mightily with Frp on many issues. Grande, who reportedly shares a personal if not political friendship with Frp leader Siv Jensen, seems more willing to compromise or push hard for Venstre’s causes within a coalition, in return for government power.
Voters inclined to favour the non-socialists are left with the same dilemma, though, that they still don’t know what a non-socialist coalition will look like. That will be hammered out in the proverbial backroom after the election, because Høyre boss Erna Solberg has refused to set any constellation in stone like the current left-center coalition did long ago. Solberg still claims she wants all four non-socialist parties to get together and rule together. That remains uncertain indeed.