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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Solberg(s) poised to win back power

They’re not related, just share the same name in their Conservative Party’s campaign to prevail in Norway’s upcoming local elections. The Conservatives’ former prime minister, Erna Solberg, is working hard for her party’s top candidate in Oslo, Eirik Lae Solberg, and seems to be succeeding not only in the capital but in several other cities around the country.

Former Prime Minister Erna Solberg, shown here during Oslo’s Pride Parade this summer, is doing all she can to help her party colleague, Eirik Lae Solberg (left), be elected as the new head of Oslo’s city government. Polls show the Conservatives leading against Labour in Oslo, and in several other Norwegian cities. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

The latest polls indicate that the Conservatives (Høyre) are on track to win back power from Labour- and its left-center partners, both at the municipal and national levels. Høyre towered over its arch rival Labour (Arbeiderpartiet), with 30.3 percent of the vote on a national basis, according to a party barometer for August conducted by research firm Opinion for left-leaning media outlets Frifagbevegelse, Dagsavisen and Fagbladet. That compared to just 18 percent for Labour and 5.7 percent for Labour’s national government coalition partner, the Center Party.

On a local basis, 26 percent of those polled said they’d vote for the Conservatives when asked which parties they’d choose in a local election. Just 18.4 percent would vote for Labour and 8.8 percent for Center, which often wins local political control in outlying districts. Support for Center was down 5.6 points from the last local elections in 2019.

Local election campaigns in Norway are already well underway, along with party leader debates like this one organized by newspaper VG between Labour’s current prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, and the Conservatives’ former prime minister, Erna Solberg. HOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

The Greens Party, which has shared political power with Labour in Oslo for the past eight years, has also lost favour. It slumped to just 3.6 percent of the vote on a national basis (barely enough to win representation in Parliament) and 5.8 percent on a local basis.

The Conservatives’ former government partners, Progress and the Liberals, both gained in the new polls, too. Progress held 14.2 percent of the vote on a national basis and 9.2 percent on a local basis, while the Liberals held 4.6- and 4.9 percent respectively. If such poll results prevail in Norway’s local elections next month, the conservative side would likely win power back in Oslo, Bergen and several other municipalities including even Lillestrøm, which Labour has steered for more than 100 years.

Political commentators attribute it all to voter dissatisfaction with Norway’s current Labour-Center coalition government. The Conservatives hope such anti-Labour sentiment will double the number of Conservative mayors around Norway, from 35 at present to 70. The party’s deputy leader, Henrik Asheim, thinks voters are tired of large increases in the property taxes imposed by local goverments, along with steep hikes in municipal fees for water, sewage and local services like garbage collection.

That’s soured voters in Oslo, where many residents are also unhappy over street parking being replaced by little-used bike lanes in residential neighbourhoods, and various other questionable use of taxpayers’ funding. There’s also been an ideological debate over public- vs. private funding of other services, especially day care, elder care, home health services and nursing homes. The left side wants to replace private providers and has done so, often resulting in a reduction of care offered.

Conservatives leader Erna Solberg, shown here at the party’s most recent annual meeting, is keen to win power back at the local level this fall and return as prime minister two years from now. The campaign slogan on her podium translates to “opportunities for everyone.” PHOTO: Høyre/Hans Kristian Thorbjørnsen

Labour Party Secretary Kjersti Stenseng admits the polls aren’t looking good, but stressed to Dagsavisen that “we have a very large team of competent candidates and volunteers who work every day to put forth our priorities for elder care … and clarify differences between Labour- and Conservatives-run communities.”

Asheim, meanwhile, stressed that no one in his party is taking election victories for granted, as the campaign moves up to full force. Left-wing parties like the Reds and the Socialist Left (SV) are also seeing growth despite some scandal and changes in leadership. SV held 9.4 percent of the vote on a national level and 8.4 percent locally in the new poll, while the Reds stood at 5.5- and 6.1 per cent respectively. The new leader of the Reds Party, among the few to promote their message in detail to a foreign audience (external link), was widely deemed to have performed well at recent party leader debates, and poll numbers are up, not down.

Fully 8.3 percent of voters polled, however, also collectively support “other parties” in addition to the nine currently represented in the Norwegian Parliament. These small parties span the spectrum from Liberalistene, which wants municipalities to be able to sanction private bordellos, to the new Industri- og næringspartiet (INP) that promotes more relief for industry and business, and Folkets parti, rooted in an uproar against road tolls. Most are too small to have much impact but INP has merged with Helsepartiet and may tip the balance in some cities.

Municipal elections will run over two days, September 10 and 11, with early voting already underway.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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