Some new but not necessarily young faces were showing up at City Hall this week as Oslo’s new Labour-led city government was coming together. Among them is the 84-year-old Labour Party legend Thorvald Stoltenberg, a former defense- and foreign minister who’ll be joining a large group of other political veterans on the city council.
Stoltenberg is the father of the former prime minister who now heads NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, and no novice in the political world. The longtime diplomat was first elected to the city council in 1983 but quickly advanced to politics at the national level. Thorvald Stoltenberg served in the government led by Gro Harlem Brundtland, who even summoned him home from a top job at the United Nations in the early 1990s.
Now, at an age when most people are long retired, he’ll be delving into the debates over property tax, a ban on cars in downtown Oslo, day care and elder care programs and a long list of other issues to be tackled by the capital’s new city government coalition. His own Labour Party, which ranks as the largest in Oslo with 32 percent of the vote, will head the coalition.
Stoltenberg said it was the new city government leader Raymond Johansen himself who called Stoltenberg and asked him to be a candidate for City Council. He agreed but was 65th on the list so doubted he’d actually be elected. So many people wrote in his name on election ballots though, and Labour gained so many votes that newspaper Aftenposten reported how he wound up in 14th place and thus won his way into council chambers.
“It’s very nice and I look forward to it, but never in my wildest thoughts had I seen getting so many votes,” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten. Stoltenberg, who lost a daughter to drug addiction, said that programs for addicts and narcotics policies are high on his list of priorities. He said he also “wholeheartedly supports” Labour’s own proposal to impose property tax on Oslo residents, with revenues earmarked for child and elder care.
He has a few challenges ahead since he’s not online and has no email account, at least not yet. “The whole family is on the Internet, but not me,” he said. “When I get an SMS (text message), I don’t know how to answer it. My grandchildren think it’s funny, because then they can instruct me.”
Stoltenberg wasn’t the only senior citizen to win election, and he’ll be joining other political veterans who’ve been on the council for 30 years or more. Among them: Peter N Myhre of the Progress Party, Khalid Mahmood of Labour and Marianne Borgen of SV, now set to take over as mayor. A former arch-rival from Parliament, Carl I Hagen of the Progress Party, was voted in as well, 36 years after the first time.
There will be some older new faces, too, with former Norway Cup boss Frode Kyvåg winning a council seat for Labour along with Geir Lippestad, who served as defense lawyer for the lone gunman who massacred young Labour Party campers four years ago. Some say the write-in votes of such men squeezed out women and immigrants whose parties had listed them higher but who lost popular votes. There are plenty of women and minorities on the council, though, with 11 of Labour’s own 20 seats to be held by Norwegians with immigrant background.