NEWS ANALYSIS: It was Mothers’ Day in Norway on Sunday, and the woman who’s increasingly viewed as Mor Norge (Mother Norway) was featured heavily in the country’s biggest newspaper. While Erna Solberg is clearly happy in her job as prime minister, a commentator in Aftenposten wondered whether she knows how lucky she is as well, with her homeland, her government partners and even the opposition in Parliament.
Sol means “sun” in Norwegian, and the headline on Aftenposten’s commentary stated that “The sun is shining on Solberg,” even as snow kept falling through most of the weekend. It was written by Per Edgar Kokkvold, a former head of the Norwegian Press Federation who follows politics closely both in Norway and abroad. Even after having to face weeks of scandal tied to the “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment, which has hit Solberg, her Conservative Party and most others hard, Kokkvold could convincingly state that Solberg still seems to be “a happy prime minister” even when “she too” faces huge challenges.
“Solberg is a person who lives at peace with herself, who has the calm folks value when the country is doing well, the welfare state functions and there are no huge differences among the parties,” Kokkvold wrote. Solberg’s sense of calm, it should be noted, has also functioned when things were not going so well, like when oil prices collapsed just months after she took office in 2013 and Norway’s long-booming economy could have collapsed as well.
She and her conservative coalition government ended up guiding Norway out of the economic storm to win re-election last fall. She’s been lucky with her government partner, the more conservative Progress Party, which Kokkvold noted has proven to be more cooperative and amenable than most expected in advance. The Progress Party, which had never been in government position before, thrives in the role and party leader Siv Jensen has won high marks as Norway’s finance minister.
Jensen and Solberg seem to be a good team, and now they’ve added Trine Skei Grande and Grande’s small Liberal Party to it. Solberg managed to keep her coalition governemnt together with the support of the Liberals and the Christian Democrats during her first term as prime minister. It will be tougher in minority position without the earlier support pact, but Solberg maintains a serene smile and seems determined to make it work.
Strong poll results
Compared to the troubles faced by other national leaders like Angela Merkel in Germany and Theresa May in the UK, Solberg has it easy and continues to log strong showings in public opinion polls since the election. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported last week that Solberg and her Conservatives “parked” their biggest rivals in the Labour Party once again.
Not only have voters put Solberg’s party on top with nearly 29 percent of the vote in NRK’s party barometer for February, a large majority believe Solberg is best-suited to be prime minister. Fully 58.2 percent of Norwegians favour Solberg as prime minister, compared to just 24.7 percent for Norway’s other prime minister candidate, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre. The other 17 percent had no opinion.
Støre and his party have clearly lost even more ground during the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Labour’s former top politician Trond Giske. Complaints filed against him, some of them stretching back several years to his time as government minister, have clearly hurt the party and forced Støre into damage-control mode at a time when he needed to be building up a new political offense. Even though Støre has won generally good marks for how he handled all the charges against Giske, who lost all his party posts but remains a Member of Parliament, the gap between Støre and Solberg widened enormously.
Kokkvold noted that Solberg has gained on Labour’s misfortunes. Labour will fight back and rise again, he predicted, but it will take time, and that led him to make an even bolder prediction: “If Norway avoids a strong economic setback, and major political scandals over the next few years, it’s more probable than improbable that Erna Solberg will become prime minister in 2021 for the third time,” he wrote. “That is, if she wants (to keep the job) herself.”
She’s showing no signs of fatigue yet, and was predictably quick on Sunday morning to send out a message of congratulations to the three young Norwegian men who won all three top spots on the winners’ platform at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. “What a day!” Solberg exclaimed on Twitter, and a nice Mothers Day for her, too.