Sunday, 13 September 2009
Norway votes tomorrow
Tomorrow Norway votes in a general election whose outcome is still completely open. With more than 50 out of 169 MPs not seeking re-election there will certainly be many new faces when the new parliament convenes in October, but the question which has dominated the campaign is what government we will get after the election.
When the current government, a centre-left coalition of the Labour Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party, took office in 2005 it was the first majority government for twenty years. Some polls in the last few days have shown a renewed majority for the government parties, such as Dagbladet’s final poll yesterday, which gave them 89 seats in Parliament with two for the far-left wing party Red (presently not in Parliament) and only 79 seats for the opposition, while Aftenposten’s poll today predicts the narrowest possible outcome – 85 seats for the coalition, 84 for the opposition. If this holds true, the present government will remain in office and be the first government to survive an election since 1993.
Some polls have shown the opposite scenario, giving the majority to the four opposition parties – the Liberal Party, the Christian Democrats, the Conservative Party and the Progress Party. TV2’s poll last night gave the opposition 87 seats against the government parties’ 82. If so it is hard to tell what government the country will get, as the opposition has lately been very busy issuing guarantees against each other.
Siv Jensen, the leader of the populist, far right-wing Progress Party, which will by all prognoses remain the second largest in Parliament, has made it clear that she is willing to cooperate with all the three opposition parties. However, she will not support a government which her party is not part of, nor will they vote for a budget presented by such a government.
The leader of the Liberal Party, Lars Sponheim, has on the other hand issued a guarantee that his party will not support a government in which the Progress Party participates – recently he added that if he breaks this promise, he will allow voters to come home to his farm and beat him up. Sponheim has also made it clear that his party will not take part in a government which allows petroleum activity in the vulnerable northern areas Lofoten and Vesterålen. The other party most opposed to such activity is the Socialist Left Party and although Sponheim has said he rather wants the current Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg (Labour), than Siv Jensen, he has also made it clear that he will not support a government in which the Socialist Left Party participates. The same has been said by the Christian Democrats, who have also guaranteed that they will not cooperate with the Progress Party.
The leader of the Conservative Party, Erna Solberg, has said her party is also willing to cooperate with all the non-socialist parties. With this scenario quite improbable, a non-socialist majority means that she will most likely have to choose between forming a government with the Progress Party or with the Christian Democrats and Liberals. The leaders of the latter parties have said that if they form a government with the Conservatives, Erna Solberg will be its prime minister. If the Conservatives and the Progress Party join forces, Siv Jensen insists that she will be prime minister as her party is bigger than the Conservative Party (although recent opinion polls have shown a somewhat narrowing gap).
The changing fortunes of Erna Solberg have been one of the most interesting aspects of this election campaign. A month ago the newspapers were full of articles about her being a failure as party leader and speculations about who would succeed her, while the media made it look as if Siv Jensen was the only alternative to Jens Stoltenberg as PM. Now it seems quite likely that a non-socialist majority in tomorrow’s election can give the premiership to Solberg, which would be one of the most amazing comebacks of Norwegian politics.
Although Jens Stoltenberg insists that a non-socialist victory will mean a non-socialist government, a third possible scenario could be that the Labour Party continues as a minority government without its coalition partners, seeking parliamentary support from issue to issue. Some have also suggested that the centre-left coalition would go on as a minority government until defeated in Parliament, but if so, Lars Sponheim has said he will call for a vote of no confidence.
Further, one cannot rule out the possibility that, faced with a non-socialist majority, some of all those guarantees will be torn up and the politicians of those parties solemnly announce that the people have spoken, the country needs a government and they will accept their responsibilities even though it involves working with parties they have earlier rejected. So in short, almost anything can be the outcome of this election.
It is no secret that I personally would prefer the current government to continue. Although it has not been able to fulfil all its promises from four years ago (what government ever did?), it has mostly done a good job and achieved many notable changes for the better. It has also steered Norway safely through the financial crisis, meaning that Norway has one of the soundest economies in Europe and an unemployment rate of only 3 % - the lowest in Europe. This may be jeopardised if the opposition comes to power, and would be almost unavoidable if the Progress Party were to get a hand on the wheel. A centre-left government will in my opinion be the safest for the future of this country and I cross my fingers that this will be the outcome of tomorrow’s election.
This weekend means the end of campaigning for the politicians and their supporters – the pictures show politicians from Labour and the Socialist Left Party campaigning in central Oslo yesterday. Tomorrow it is up to the people to decide what future they want.