Voting wraps up in election thriller

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Norway’s two biggest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, were running neck-and-neck heading into Monday’s parliamentary elections in Norway, while the fate of the small parties on both sides was up for grabs. The non-socialist parties still held a collective majority as Election Day dawned, but it remained highly unclear how the three smaller ones among them would be able to influence formation of a new government.

Voting actually has been going on for weeks, for those wanting to avoid lines at polling places or who may be absent on Election Day, but it all ends Monday evening. Words like “dramatic” and “thrilling” were being used to describe how Election Night itself seemed likely to shape up as returns started coming in. Election results for the small parties would once again determine the outcome, depending on how much relative strength each might be able to give in helping Conservative Party (Høyre) leader Erna Solberg form a government.

Labour gained ground
Meanwhile Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the incumbent Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) refused to give up, even though the two small parties who helped him form Norway’s past two governments have lost lots of voter support. It seemed unlikely that Stoltenberg will win a third term with his current coalition, despite intense last-minute campaigning. Stoltenberg’s main message during the weekend was that Labour would offer more “secure management” of Norway’s strong economy, while his conservative rivals’ management plans were unproven.

Long-dominant Labour regained strength in some public opinion polls just prior to the election, with some even showing Labour bigger than the Conservatives. Others showed the two parties more even, with newspaper Aftenposten’s poll giving them each around 28 percent of the vote. Labour on its own, though, still lagged far behind a prospective coalition of the parties on the right.

That’s the unknown outcome that was fueling most of the drama, not least after the latest provocative comments from the former leader of Norway’s third-largest and most conservative party, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp).

Hagen stirs up controversy again
Ex-Frp boss Carl I Hagen was supposed to retire from national politics after the last parliamentary elections in 2009 but remains loud from the sidelines and active in city politics in Oslo. Now he’s stirred up controversy again by telling newspaper VG that he doesn’t think Frp should support a non-socialist government led by Høyre unless its top-10 demands are met. While Høyre has expressed willingness to negotiate and compromise on some issues, it could never cave in on so many as Hagen demands.

Hagen’s remarks thus put his successor, Siv Jensen, in a difficult spot just as she and Solberg have been warming up to each other. Hagen warned Jensen against falling into a government trap that could force Frp to compromise on too many issues for the sake of government unity. It’s advice Jensen hardly wanted but poses the real dilemma that many feel led to the downfall of the Socialist Left party (SV), when it finally won a spot in government with Labour but then had to make so many compromises that it lost its core voters.

Solberg of Høyre would also be left in a tough spot if Frp were to withdraw from government negotiations, since it has a solid bloc of voters that Høyre needs (around 15 percent). The other two non-socialist parties (the Liberals and the Christian Democrats)  are much smaller and wouldn’t give Høyre the muscle Frp could.

Polls close at 9pm on Monday, with election returns due to start emerging shortly after that. Party leaders were expected to hold another traditional post-election debate around midnight. The current left-center government will formally continue in power until formation of the new parliament in October. By that time, a new government is expected to be negotiated and ready to take over.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund