A referendum held during the past week in Norway’s northern-most county of Finnmark has resulted in fully 87 percent saying “no” to a pending merger with neighbouring Troms County. Even though the Parliament has decreed the merger, opposition parties are now calling on the government to halt the merger process.
The referendum result came as no big surprise. Public opinion polls had shown 86 percent opposed to the controversial merger earlier this spring, and politicians in Finnmark are against it as well. They fear a loss of local power and a wave of practical problems tied to creation of a single county that will be larger than Denmark in terms of sheer geographic size.
Voter turnout was also high for the vast county, at 58 percent. In some communities, fully 90 percent voted against the merger.
Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, who earlier has promoted both county and municipal reforms that involve mergers, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the three government parties (the Conservatives, Progress and the Liberals) and the Christian Democrats to reverse a decision to force the merger through by 2020. Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, eager to win more voters in Finnmark, vowed to introduce such a proposal in Parliament based on the referendum result.
With the government feeling obliged to carry out the earlier Parliamentary vote in favour of the merger, the Christian Democrats may once again find itself with the crucial swing vote.