Election turns into a ‘political thriller’

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With less than two weeks to go before Norway’s national election, polls indicate nothing less than what commentators are calling a political thriller. The Labour, Center and Socialist Left parties have lost their majority that seemed so certain since last winter, meaning the country may end up leaning even farther to the left, or keeping the incumbent Conservatives-led coalition in place.

The Labour Party’s leadership, Jonas Gahr Støre and Hadia Tajik, campaigning in southwestern Norway last week. They’ve lost their majority in the polls. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

The tide started turning last week, when the self-confident Center Party first seemed to have lost the confidence of voters. Then Labour started to sink as well, as did the Socialist Left (SV). Center’s hopes of forming a left-center government with just Labour have faded. Now not even SV may be able to assure formation of the same three-party coalition that ruled from 2005 to 2013.

Then the left-leaning Greens Party, which has jumped in the polls, announced that it won’t support any government that won’t halt further oil and gas exploration. Since Labour, Center and Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives all refuse to stop drilling, as does the pro-oil Progress Party, the suddenly strong Reds Party (which evolved from Norway’s former communist party) is just as suddenly in a position of strength.

That’s because the Reds haven’t issued an ultimatum on oil drilling like the Greens have. Norway’s most radical left party doesn’t favour more oil and gas exploration but appears more open to negotiate the industry’s future. If Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre manages to form a new government, it may have to rely on the Reds to support.

“Then we all just have to brace ourselves for a much redder (left-wing) Norway,” wrote Frithjof Jacobsen, political editor of newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. Labour and the Reds already agree on quite a few issues, like higher taxes on private wealth and profitable companies, more government control of welfare services and measures aimed at reducing social differences among Norwegians. They differ sharply on the EU, with Labour earlier wanting to join the EU and the Reds (like Center) wanting an even more independent Norway.

All recent public opinion polls show that Labour, Center and SV will now need either the Greens or the Reds to get measures through Parliament. At this point, the Reds seem a more likely partner.

Conservatives leader Erna Solberg is keen on a third term as Norway’s prime minister. She recently rolled out another four-year plan for Norway, scoffing at Labour’s 100-day plan. PHOTO: Høyre/Hans Kristian Thorbjornsen

At the same time, the Conservatives actually ended up winning support from SV, the Reds and the Greens for the government’s surprise proposal this week to revamp the tax system for the oil industry. That would make oil and gas exploration much less favourable for oil companies, which is why it won kudos from the Norway’s anti-oil parties. Two of them are already members of Solberg’s conservative coalition, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, the latter of which is also suddenly gaining in the polls after months of extremely low voter support. One recent poll showed the Liberals with 10.2 percent of the vote in Oslo.

That’s now fueling some speculation that Solberg’s government still has a chance of winning re-election, albeit as a minority government that would have to win support from other parties on an issue-by-issue basis. The Conservatives’ Torbjørn Røe Isaksen also noted that around 14 percent of Norwegian voters have already cast their ballots in early voting, many remain uncertain and can at least likely give the Conservatives strength in opposition.

Right now, there are no clear majorities. “We may wind up with the most left-wing government since Labour had to form a majority with SF (SV’s predecessor) in 1961,” Isaksen told DN, “or, if there’s no conservative majority either, a strong opposition that can pull some weight away from a radical left.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund