Norway PM Wins Second Term as Insurgency Against Oil Fizzles

  • Solberg has narrow victory after delivering record stimulus
  • Labor leader Store calls result a ‘big disappointment’

Erna Solberg during a televised debate in Oslo, Norway, on Sept. 12.

Photographer: Kyrre Lien/Bloomberg

Prime Minister Erna Solberg became Norway’s first Conservative Party leader in over three decades to be re-elected as a movement to stop further oil exploration in western Europe’s biggest petroleum producer fizzled.  

“We won support for four more years because we have delivered on what we have promised and also because we have met tough challenges,” Solberg said at an election rally in Oslo shortly after midnight. “Our steady leadership has won the respect of the voters.”

An economic rebound and declining joblessness won over voters in Scandinavia’s richest nation. The 56-year-old, and the groups of lawmakers who support her, achieved a late summer comeback to stay in power after spending record amounts of oil wealth over the past four years to support the economy amid a slump in crude prices.

Backing for the Green Party, which called for an end to Norwegian petroleum exploration, failed to live up to projections it could emerge as a kingmaker, a development that’s likely to be a relief for the nation’s oil industry. Norwegians have been increasingly questioning how to reconcile their role as a major oil and gas producer with fighting climate change and whether searching for more petroleum will be profitable in a world where renewable energy is taking over more and more.

The result shows the power of the purse in European elections, after the trauma of the debt crisis and the political upheaval that followed. Solberg pumped money into an economy that a year after she first took office was pummeled by a slump in oil prices. Her stimulus program included becoming Norway’s first premier to take money directly from Norway’s almost $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund to increase the government’s budget.

Solberg defeated an opposition led by the Labor Party, whose leader Jonas Gahr Store struggled to win over an electorate suspicious of his personal wealth and confused by his efforts to woo the center-right.

As the results became clear, Gahr Store told supporters the election outcome was a “big disappointment,” but wished Solberg luck and pledged to be “constructive” in opposition.

Solberg’s victory was narrow and her bloc ended up losing seats. But Labor had its worst election result since 2001. Store, himself a dollar millionaire, bled seats to the socialist parties on the left, while the big winner was the Center Party, an agrarian group opposed to centralization and Norway’s free-trade agreement with the European Union.

Solberg now needs to sit down with the anti-immigration Progress Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats to start talks on forming a new coalition. Over the past four years, the quartet clashed regularly over issues such as immigration and the environment. 

The Christian Democrat leader, Knut Arild Hareide, said the election was a “vote of confidence” in the prime minister, while Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande said Solberg has been “strengthened.”

The prime minister has promised to moderate spending over the next four years as the economy normalizes. But she’ll also need to mollify her coalition partner, the Progress Party, which is keen to keep up spending even as it targets tax cuts.

Still, the Progress Party was the most stable in the ruling bloc, and was quick to attribute victory to a strong economic performance. Despite lower oil prices and a migration crisis, the government “delivered on what we have promised,” said Progress leader Siv Jensen, who served as finance minister in the current coalition.

In an interview Tuesday, Solberg said not to expect any major changes in policies over the next four years and would not be drawn on the composition of the next government, including on Jensen’s future role.

— With assistance by Nick Rigillo

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