Erna earns another win
Despite a heated build-up, Norway’s polls delivered an affirmation of the status quo.
NORWAY’S elections are done and dusted and once again the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet in Norwegian) has emerged as the largest single party in Parliament.
That’s no surprise really, since it has occupied that position in every election since 1927.
However, it won’t be part of the government just like after the last election, when a centre-right coalition gathered around the Hoyre (Conservative) Party of Erna Solberg picked up just enough seats to form an administration with a rough headcount of 88 for the right and 80 for the left.
Even a long time Hoyre supporter I spoke to conceded that the welfare state system of high taxation comes with many benefits.
She quickly added, however, that many smaller private businesses would experience a negative effect if the Labour party had been returned to power.
Norway runs on a model of social democracy similar to that practised by its near neighbours – Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
With leaders like former prime ministers Johan Nygaardsvold (1930s), Einar Gerhardsen (1940s-1960s), Gro Harlem Brundtland (1980s and 1990s) and Jena Stoltenberg (who lost to Solberg in 2013), the Labour Party dominated the country’s political landscape for many decades.
However, new issues have come to the fore.
And while the basic structure of the welfare state remains untouched, there seems to be a determination by the electorate to leave day to day running of the state in the hands of the centre-right.
Somewhat ironically, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Store is himself part of the business elite, a millionaire several times over largely thanks to inheritance.
In fact, so open a society is Norway that income tax is 40% and everyone’s salary is a matter of public record!
My former classmate Morten Bredesen is a Norwegian who has now become a Swedish citizen.
He feels that the country’s vast natural resources like oil and small population make it relatively easy for politicians to govern and maintain Norway’s position among the world’s richest countries while enjoying an equitable distribution of wealth.
“I’m a Swedish citizen nowadays so can’t vote in Norway. I don’t know who I would have voted for as the two main sides/alternatives are very similar,” he told me, echoing the view that in long-time two party (or two coalition) systems, the differences between the two sides diminish over time.
“Some months back, it looked like there would be a shift but I think people are actually quite happy with the current government. Things are going quite okay in Norway nowadays, so there is no incentive to change.”
I asked if the system was much the same in Sweden.
“Yes, it’s very similar. My wife worked in the Swedish defence industry and needed to change (nationality) to get the security clearance for her job. My kids feel more Swedish than Norwegian now, so we all changed some years back.”
Still, one of the issues that Solberg is facing is that her coalition’s second largest party, the Progress party has tried to go strong on immigration and border control – key issues in that part of the world.
Norway is proposing a ban on the full-face veil in nurseries, schools and universities, saying that it interferes with communication between students and teachers. However, headscarves and other headgear could continue to be worn.
The Bill, which has been proposed by the government, is expected to pass next year.
Those who feel that the Progress party needs to be reined in will be cheered by statements of smaller coalition leaders of the Liberal and Christian Democratic parties who have made it clear to Solberg that the right-wingers need to be reined in. The Star Online news editor Martin Vengadesan notes that Norway enjoys the world’s highest newspaper readership per capita.
Reason to cheer: Norwegian Conservative Party members and supporters celebrating at an election-night party in Oslo. — Reuters
Meeting of minds: Solberg (right) and Store attending a televised debate following a parliamentary election in Oslo. — Bloomberg