As the votes were tallied up on Tuesday, it became clear that Norway’s government minister in charge of townships (known as kommuner) was suffering another defeat. Of the 47 municipalities voting in the latest round of referenda, only around 20 percent opted to merge with their neighbours.
The elections once again featured mostly low voter turnout and negative reaction to various proposals for municipal mergers. In some areas, the voter turnout was so low that officials didn’t feel obligated to follow the election result.
Government Minister Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservative Party wants Nroway’s 428 local governments to be pared down to less than 100. Bigger townships, Sanner claims, can help streamline and better ensure delivery of social welfare services in the future, not least because of sheer economies of scale.
While some local government officials have struck deals to merge and reduce bureaucracy, others are clinging on to their existing systems. A majority of voters in the small communities of Hammarøy, Fauske, Saltdal, Karlsøy and Sørfold, for example, opted on Monday to continue to go it alone. Many local residents in outlying areas fear that delivery of services will become worse, not better, if they have to travel farther to obtain health services or discuss pension payments, for example.
More elections will be held throughout June, with the municipalities facing a state-imposed deadline of July 1 to come up with voluntary merger plans. They otherwise face state-mandated mergers, if Sanner decides to push through the Parliamentary-approved consolidation.