Thursday, 8 October 2009

Parliament constitutes itself and elects its presidium

Today the Norwegian Parliament constituted itself following the general election in September and elected its Presidium. As none of the members of the Presidium of the previous Parliament were candidates for re-election to Parliament, it fell to the longest-serving MP, Per-Kristian Foss (Conservative Party) to preside over this sitting of Parliament.
The members of the Presidium are elected by secret ballot, but who will have what position is determined by the size of the parties. The parties then select their candidates, who are in due course elected by Parliament in what is some sort of gentlemen’s agreement. Occasionally blank votes have been cast if there is a particularly controversial candidate, but today only one candidate was elected unanimously, which may be a sign of the increasing polarisation of Norwegian politics.
As Labour is the largest party, they have the right to fill the position of Speaker of Parliament and Third Vice-Speaker. Dag Terje Andersen, until recently Minister of Labour and Social Inclusion, was elected Speaker of Parliament with 163 votes out of a total 167 MPs present.
The First Vice-Speaker should come from the second largest party and Øyvind Korsberg from the Progress Party was elected to this position. Per-Kristian Foss from the Conservatives was chosen as Second Vice-Speaker – he was the only one who received a unanimous vote, something a light bulb celebrated by exploding, showering a newly elected MP with broken glass.
Marit Nybakk, Labour’s longest-serving MP, was elected Third Vice-Speaker. The most historic moment came when Inga Marte Thorkildsen, acting as parliamentary leader of the Socialist Left Party, proposed Akhtar Chaudhry for the position of Fourth Vice-Speaker. Chaudhry, who was born in Pakistan, is the first MP of multiethnic background to be elected to Parliament’s Presidium. Sadly he received only 153 votes against 14 blank votes. This may perhaps be seen in relation to a certain party’s opposition to immigration, but perhaps also to the fact that Chaudhry is in fact not an MP in his own right, but filling in for Kristin Halvorsen, who as Finance Minister cannot take her seat in Parliament. If she, or her first designated deputy Heidi Sørensen, currently State Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, resigns from their government positions, Chaudhry will have to leave Parliament.
The position as Fifth Vice-Speaker should by right go to the Centre Party, but was given to the Christian Democrat Party even though this party is smaller in size than the Centre Party. This is probably because the three government parties (Labour, the Socialist Left and the Centre Party) have a narrow majority in Parliament – thus it seems fairer if half the seats in the Presidium are filled by the government parties and the other half by the opposition. Line Henriette Holten Hjemdal was elected to this last seat in the Presidium. Her father, Odd Holten, was also a member of the Presidium between 2001 and 2005.
With two women and four men, the youngest member being 38 and the oldest 62, this Presidium is both younger and more balanced than the previous one, which was rather aged and consisted of five men and one woman. With many veteran MPs having left Parliament at the election, some other important positions have also been accorded to quite young MPs. The Conservative MP Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide was yesterday chosen to be leader of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and is at 33 the youngest ever leader of this committee. 30-year-old Torgeir Micaelsen (Labour) today also became the youngest ever leader of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.
Having constituted itself, Parliament sends a message to the King informing him of this fact and asking him to let them know when it will suit him to open Parliament. This is of course only a formality as everyone knows that the State Opening of Parliament will take place at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The Parliament which will be opened tomorrow will be the 154th Norwegian Parliament, but the first unicameral because of the extensive constitutional changes which took effect on 1 October.
The first and second photos show the scene as MPs cast their votes; the third the acting Speaker waiting while Berit Moxness Vollmo from Parliament’s constitutional office counts the votes; and the fourth the new Speaker, Dag Terje Andersen, being congratulated by his fellow MPs Heikki Holmås and Inga Marte Thorkildsen.

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