After last Monday’s general elections Norway will be governed by a so-called “red-green” coalition of the social-democratic Workers' Party (Ap) of the future Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, the Socialist Left Party (SV) and the green Center Party (Sp).
The “blue” coalition of the Right Party (H), the Christian-Democrat Party (Krf) of Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, and the Left Party (V) (which in Norway is a center-right party!) has been voted out of power. The rightist Progress Party (Frp), led by the charismatic Carl I. Hagen, becomes the country’s biggest opposition party.
“Red-green” has an absolute majority of 88 seats against 81. For the three coalition partners the new government will be a first. For the Workers' Party (61 seats) it is the first time ever that it will have to govern in a coalition; for the SV it is the first time ever to be in government; and for the Center Party it is the first time ever that it joins a leftist coalition (it has previously governed with the Christian-Democrats).
The Workers' Party rose from 24.3% to 32.5%. However, four years ago it suffered its worst election defeat ever. The losses of 2001 have not been compensated. Indeed, 32.5% is the second worst electoral score of the party since… the 1920s. It is possible to “win” elections by having been battered in the previous one. Moreover, the gains of the Workers' Party come from the Socialist Left Party (SV). This anti-American party, which wants Norway to leave NATO, lost one third of its seats.
On the right, the inaptly named Left Party advanced hugely. It now has 10 seats in Parliament, where it previously had only 2. Its gains, however, were offset by the losses of the two major parties of the previous “blue” coalition: the Right Party and the Christian-Democrats of Prime Minister Bondevik. The Right Party, though it was the biggest party in the previous coalition, had not put its own leader, Erna Solberg, forward as a candidate for Prime Minister, which clearly placed it at a disadvantage in the competition with the other parties. It also did not manage to convince the voters why the oil producing Norwegians should look after their government expenses in an age of rising oil revenues.
The Christian-Democrat Party of the Europhile Bondevik lost to the Progress Party of Carl I. Hagen, an outspoken Eurosceptic. The Progress Party became the biggest party on the right, with 22.1% of the votes and 38 seats. It has never been stronger than today. Hagen was the only Norwegian politician to openly support the present Republican administration in Washington. The Right Party, traditionally close to the American Republicans, was afraid to show any pro-American feelings during the campaign. Hagen’s friendliness towards Israel may also have attracted new voters to his party.
Foreign correspondents in Oslo tend to underestimate the importance of the fact that the Progress Party is the only party that is critical of the Norwegian model. Even the Right Party and the Christian-Democrats share the general consensus that Norway should remain in essence a social-democratic welfare state. The Progress Party stands for more individual liberty, although in my opinion its rethoric is often too populist. All too often even Hagen seems to think that all Norway’s problems can be solved by simply tapping into the country’s oil proceeds. Norway is, indeed, the world’s most wealthy country, but unlike Iceland - the world’s second wealthiest country - the key to Norway’s wealth is oil and not the liberalisation of the economy.
The future Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, will now have to share the ministerial departments among the coalition partners. One thing is certain: the Socialist Left Party (SV) will not get the Foreign Affairs ministry. Foreign politics is an issue which deeply divides the new government partners. Stoltenberg’s Workers' Party (Ap) is critical of the Americans, but not as radically as the SV. The major disagreement, however, is about Europe. The Ap wants to join the EU, while the SV is opposed to the EU. Hence, the coalition agreement will probably contain a “suicide paragraph” stating that the coalition ceases to exist as soon as a major EU debate is held in Norway.