Norway Set for Power Shift as Voters Embrace Conservatives
Norway’s Conservatives are heading for an election victory that would oust Prime MinisterJens Stoltenberg after eight years, as voters in Scandinavia’s richest nation choose tax cuts over promises of more welfare.
Voters in the Nordic nation of 5.1 million cast their ballots today, with a result expected after polling stations close at 9 p.m. local time. The Labor-led government trails the Conservative-led four-party opposition bloc by almost 15 percentage points, according to a weighted average of polls.
“There’s a tiredness of the current government and voters would like to see new faces in positions of power,” Knut Heidar, political science professor at the University of Oslo, said by phone. “It’s pretty certain that we will have a change of government.”
Just two years after being dubbed the “father of the nation” for his handling of the July 22 twin terror attacks by Anders Behring Breivik, Stoltenberg is headed for defeat as Norwegians seek a new leader for Europe’s second-richest economy. Conservative leader Erna Solberg has wooed voters with promises of tax cuts and more investments in infrastructure as well as a restructuring of the nation’s $750 billion sovereign wealth fund. Her coalition partner, the Progress Party, has vowed to spend more of the nation’s oil wealth.
The four-party opposition would get 98 of parliament’s 169 seats, in a weighted average of 26 opinion polls as of Sept. 9 by the website Pollofpolls.no. Stoltenberg’s three-party coalition, which also includes the Socialist Left and the Center Party, had 70 seats in the same polls. The surveys indicate that Labor will remain the largest party with 29.2 percent support, while the Conservatives are set to get 27.4 percent.
“Maybe a change will put Norway in a better position to get social spending a little lower,” said Kjetil Ertnaes, a 53-year-old management consultant, after voting today for the Conservatives at City Hall in Oslo.
Solberg, 52, will need to form a government with the anti-immigration Progress Party, the smaller Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party. The parties have yet to decide who will be part of the Conservative-led government and will need to negotiate after the election if they win.
Opposition parties have been trying to carve out their own policy corners by criticizing their allies, with the smaller groups questioning the Progress Party’s economic and immigration stance. The group, led by Siv Jensen, is an outlier in seeking to spend more of Norway’s commodities wealth, rejecting a rule that limits spending to 4 percent of the oil fund.
Online bookmaker Betsson last week paid out gamblers who had bet on a victory for Solberg as the next prime minister.
“The difficulties of agreeing on a platform will be severe,” Knut Anton Mork, chief economist at Svenska Handelsbanken AB, wrote in a client note. “They have been unable to agree on even a minimal common platform before the election.”
While Norway has weathered Europe’s economic crisis better than most and registered unemployment remains below 3 percent, the next premier will take power amid an economic slowdown.
Once a haven from Europe’s debt turmoil, the $500 billion economy is now struggling to spur demand just as the rest of Europe surfaces from half a decade of economic pain. DNB ASA (DNB), Norway’s largest bank, predicts the country will be the only European nation of the 15 it tracks whose economic growth won’t accelerate next year. Still, growth will exceed the average in Europe, according to DNB estimates.
“Most things are better in Norway than in most other countries, that’s why people are coming to Norway,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with TV2 today. “We’re allowed to have high demands in Norway and while a lot is going well, there are always things that can go better.”
Solberg, a native of Bergen in western Norway, joined parliament in 1989, just three years after finishing a degree in sociology, political science, statistics and economics at the University of Bergen. She took over as leader of the Conservatives in 2004.
“There has never been such a clear decision by all parties on the non-socialist side to form a coalition government after an election,” Solberg said at a meeting with the Foreign Press Association. “In the election campaign it has never been as clear as today that an election result where the opposition wins the majority will lead to a new government.”
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