Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party (Høyre), which leads the country’s minority government coalition, fell three full points in a new public opinion poll. Battered by widespread criticism over a recent string of highly unpopular decisions, Solberg must seek ways at the party’s national meeting this weekend to revive voter support.
The Solberg government’s refusal to meet the Dalai Lama during his recent visit, its failure to take a stand on the funding of an expensive Winter Olympics in Oslo that’s opposed by a vast majority of Norwegians, and its failure to foresee just how unpopular an unsuccessful effort to change abortion rules would be, have all hurt Solberg’s party in recent months. The Conservatives fell three points to 26.8 percent of the vote in the poll conducted for newspaper Aftenposten by research firm Respons, while its government partner the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) slipped nearly a full point, to 12.8 percent.
That means the two parties now only have support from 39.6 of the voters, compared to 43.1 percent when they could claim victory in the last national election and form a government.
Solberg still smiling
Solberg, leader of the Conservatives, kept smiling as she headed into the party’s national meeting that was beginning on Friday at Gardermoen, about the same time that Dalai Lama’s flight was due to take off from the airport nearby. Solberg has been viewed as unresponsive to massive public criticism of her decision to refuse to meet the Dalai Lama during his three-day visit to Oslo. Her government has also been hit by criticism from abroad, for allegedly trying to appease Chinese authorities instead of standing firm on principle.
Several members of Solberg’s party, including Foreign Minster Børge Brende and the president of the Parliament, Olemic Thommessen, also lost respect from many Norwegians because they’d earlier been fervent supporters of the Dalai Lama and human rights in Tibet. Suddenly, faced with an ongoing diplomatic freeze with China, they refused to meet the exiled Tibetan leader in the hopes that would help melt the freeze.
Solberg firmly denies that either she or her government colleagues have acted as “cowards” in the Dalai Lama issue, as many have accused them of being. And she told Aftenposten she still enjoys going to work every day, despite all the criticism.
Solberg and her party will now likely discuss the question of whether to back an Olympics (called “OL” in Norway) during the weekend but they’re not expected to take a position despite pressure to do so. Other parties in Parliament, including the Christian Democrats and Labour, caution that huge amounts of taxpayer money continue to be spent just on the application process. The taps should be turned off now, they claim, if the government pays attention to public opinion and halts the OL effort. Solberg’s government partner, the Progress Party, firmly refused to guarantee billions in state funding for an OL at its own national meeting last weekend, but may simply be allowed to dissent if the Conservatives end up supporting an OL proposal and find support for it in parliament.
On other issues, Solberg seemed keen to address the situation in Ukraine at the party’s meeting along with government plans to improve Norway’s roads, infrastructure, competitiveness and teacher training. The abortion controversy now seems to have resolved, and she hopes for more cooperation with the governement’s two so-called support parties, the Liberals and Christian Democrats. The latter rose slightly in the latest poll, to claim 5.7 percent of voter support, while the Liberals slipped to 4.8 percent. Labour also slipped, to 33.2 percent, but still remains the biggest single party in the country.