Speculation was swirling Tuesday over who would emerge as the new mayor of Oslo, and which party will now lead the government of Norway’s biggest city. The final results of Monday’s municipal election jeopardize the Conservatives’ 18-year hold on political power in Oslo, and may deliver the mayor’s job to the Pakistan-born candidate from the newly triumphant Greens Party.
Final figures showed the Conservatives with 31.8 percent of the vote, compared to 32 percent won by Labour. The two arch rivals will thus battle for control over Oslo, with Labour newly confident after winning election victories in several of Norway’s other major cities including Bergen, Trondheim, Tromsø and Ålesund.
The Greens, meanwhile, logged fully 8.1 percent of the vote in Oslo, as it made its breakthrough as a party to be reckoned with nationwide as well. It logged the single biggest gain in the Oslo election, up 5.7 percentage points from the last local election four years ago. Nearly all the other parties (Labour included, down 1.3 points from the election four years ago) lost voters except the Reds (up 1.4 points to claim 5 percent of the vote) and the tiny Center Party (up a tenth-of-a-point to win 0.6 percent of the vote).
The Greens’ election gain means it can now deliver the swing vote needed by both Labour and the Conservatives to form a city government, depending on which party it decides to cooperate with. The Greens have consistently refused to say which side they will take, claiming they’ll cooperate with whichever party best caters to its climate and environmental goals. Most expect it to side with Labour, on the left side of the political spectrum.
Oslo’s popular incumbent mayor, Fabian Stang, intitially said he was ready to bow out but later seemed to change his mind and. He suggested he was ready for some power bargaining with the Greens, and his party colleague Stian Berger Røsland also keen to talk with the Greens. Labour’s slight 0.2 percentage-point edge over the Conservatives, however, and its likelihood to secure the Greens’ support leaves Labour’s Raymond Johansen more likely to form a government.
In that case, though, the Greens may demand that their candidate for mayor, Shoaib Mohammad Sultan, should prevail. Labour can administer the government, they reason, but the 41-year-old Sultan, according to Greens leader Rasmus Hansson, “would make an excellent mayor for Oslo.” He was born in Pakistan but grew up in Norway. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colorado State University in the US, has been active in integration debates in Oslo and has worked for both an anti-racism center in Oslo and led Norway’s Islamic Council and Oslo’s 17th of May Committee.
Sultan challenged on gay rights
Sultan was challenged on Tuesday, however, over some remarks he made in 2007 that homosexuality was a sin because the Koran forbids it. The leader of Norway’s major gay rights organization, Bård Nylund, demanded a clarification but Sultan told state broadcaster he didn’t want to talk about remarks made eight years ago. “I have said that it had to do with theology and I won’t stand here and discuss theology,” he told NRK, “but I have no problem with homosexuals and have many good friends who are homosexual.” Asked whether homosexuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals, he answered “yes.”
Sultan would, if successful in his party’s negotiations, become Oslo’s first Muslim mayor, but he doesn’t think faith has much to do with how Oslo would be governed. He thinks Oslo residents would first and foremost mark that Oslo had a green (environmentally engaged) mayor.
Labour, meanwhile, didn’t seem willing to budge on giving up its claim to the mayor’s seat. Labour’s candidate is the little-known Tone Tellevik Dahl, a 45-year-old party veteran and member of Oslo’s city council who leads its health and social committee. She grew up on the west coast island of Karmøy, went to school in France and worked as administrative leader of the biological institute at the University of Oslo until 2006, when she went on leave to be a full-time politician.
Johansen, who hopes to form a new Labour-led coalition government in Oslo, told NRK that “there’s a tradition” in Oslo for the mayor’s post to go to the city’s biggest party. That means Labour, and Dahl, should hold the post instead of Sultan, he said.
“I’m ready (to form a government),” Johansen said. “I aim to set a new course for Oslo.” That includes introduction of property tax, but on that issue, he already has conflicts brewing with the Socialist Left party (SV) which he also needs to join his coalition, and Labour hasn’t always agreed with the Reds party either. He admitted negotiations with the Greens will be tough, but said he “looked forward to getting started, and I’m certain we’ll find a good solution.”