Erna earns an­other win

De­spite a heated build-up, Nor­way’s polls de­liv­ered an af­fir­ma­tion of the sta­tus quo.

The Star Malaysia - - Dots -

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

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