05/09/2005 - D-7
Just one week before the general elections that are to take place in Norway on 12th September next, the leftwing opposition represented by the Labour Party (DNA), the Centre Party (Sp) and the Socialist Left Party (SV), parties that have joined together for the first time in their history, has taken the lead in the polls. According to a survey published on 31st August in Nationen, together these parties are due to win 51.2% of the vote, i.e. 90 of the 169 seats in the Storting (the only Chamber of Parliament), an absolute majority that few governments have won over the last few years. The "bloc", that rallies the Conservative Party (H), Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik's Popular Christian Party (KrF) and the Liberal Party (V) are only due to take 27.2% of the vote. The Progress Party (FrP), a populist extreme rightwing party, is due to win 17.5% of the vote; the Red Electoral Alliance (RV) 1.7% and finally the Coastal Party (KYST), a party led by Roy Waage, a representative of fishermen's interests and whose former chairman Steinar Batesen is the only MP, 0.8%. Just a few days before the election however, progress made by the leftwing opposition seems to have slackened slightly. A poll undertaken by AC Nielsen and published on 2nd September says that the Labour Party, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party will win 49.1% of the vote, i.e. 88 MP's in Parliament. The absolute majority is 85 seats.
The leftwing opposition has focussed its campaign on the elderly (a place in a home guaranteed to all of those who so wish), education (more emphasis on the main subjects in education and a progression to 28 hours of lessons in the primary sector) and the healthcare system (an increase of ten thousand workers in this sector).
The government coalition parties have highlighted their economic performance, reminding voters that Norway has just been ranked, for the fifth year running, as the "country with the highest living standards in the world" by the UN Programme for Development. The three government parties would like to invest more in research and innovation, increase the population's freedom of choice (choice of high school by students and choice of home help for the elderly), to abolish taxation on the richest, to reduce the highest tax band to 50% and finally to reduce tax pressure on all Norwegians. The government coalition has also warned the population about the promises made by the left that it believes might prove costly and sometimes contradictory. "You disagree about drilling for oil, about education and the security policy. The only agreement you have come to is to say nothing about the differences in opinion before the elections," said the president of the Conservative Party, Erna Solberg to Jens Stoltenberg during a televised debate.
The Labour Party is in favour of developing oil drilling along the Lofoten Islands in Nordland whilst the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party do not agree. The Labour leader partly answered these attacks by publishing a column in the press wherein he maintains that the main lines of the country's foreign policy would continue if the opposition won the general elections on 12th September next. The Labour leader maintained that if he governed the country Norway would remain a member of the NATO and the European Economic Area (EEA) that the Socialist Left Party would like however the country to withdraw from. Finally Jens Stoltenberg maintained that the leftwing coalition did not want to bring up the issue of the country joining the European Union.
According to a poll published by Aftenposten on 19th August last four Norwegians in ten think that the policy put forward by the leftwing parties is credible (44%, versus 34% for the policy undertaken by the present government coalition).
The ruling parties are suffering after the decision taken by the leader of the Progress Party not to support the government any longer if Kjell Magne Bondevik remained in the post of Prime Minister. "There are only two solutions this autumn; either a rightwing government led by Kjell Magne Bondevik, or a leftwing government led by Jens Stoltenberg," said the Popular Christian Party chairman, Dagfinn Hoybraten, simultaneously dismissing the possibility of the appointment of Erna Solberg, chairman of the Conservative Party. "I really would like to be Prime Minister one day," maintained the latter however in the newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) on 1st September. "Carl Hagen's comments are creating uncertainty on the right. In fact he is contributing to consolidation on the party of the left in their chances of coming to power," the Prime Minister stressed. "I shall not leave my office in the autumn just to please Carl Hagen. His comments will only make political sense when he says clearly that he prefers a leftwing government," he added.
According to a survey published on 23rd August in the Dagbladet, two thirds of Conservative Party supporters (67%) would like the Progress party to enter government. Some personalities have also said the same thing. Hence, Herman Friele, the mayor of the country's second biggest town, Bergen, publicly said that he wanted the "populist" party to be part of the government after the next general elections.
The Progress Party recently published a brochure that caused violent reaction within the political community. The cover of the publication that addressed immigration shows a hooded man brandishing a rifle above the following statement: "the marksman is a foreigner". Carl Hagen denied any racist intentions and argued that the brochure said that "a great number of immigrants were established quite legally in Norway and they contributed much to the country," but that unfortunately "statistics revealed that crime was rising amongst immigrant populations". The leader of the Progress Party based himself on data issued by the Norwegian Statistics Bureau that shows the level of arrest for crime is thirty for a thousand amongst non-Western immigrants in comparison with fourteen for one thousand amongst Norwegian citizens. The Norwegian Statistics Bureau said however that the great percentage of young men amongst the immigrant population explain this phenomena in part. "Not all Muslims are terrorists," declared Carl Hagen in an interview with Aftenposten on 26th August last, "but all terrorists are Muslims."
Europe has not been included in the electoral debate. Disagreements on this issue between parties of the government coalition and between those in the opposition as well as the rejection by most of the population of joining the European Union as revealed in the polls, explains why political parties have taken great care in avoiding the subject. "Whatever the election outcome, Norway is not likely to draw closer to the EU," says political analyst Frank Aarebrot. According to a poll undertaken on 31st May just two days after the French "NO" to the European Constitution, published in the daily Verdens Gang (VG), 35.5% of Norwegians said they were in favour of joining the EU versus 44.9% who said they were against.
The televised debates will continue over the last days of the campaign and polls undertaken at the end of the debates are almost all in favour of the Labour Party. DNA results in the polls have not been as high since May 2000; the social democrats seem indeed to have managed to mobilise a great party of their electorate although a great number of their supporters turned their backs on the ballot in the last general elections on 10th September 2001. "We clearly said that we would work for the elderly and schools and bring the government's anti-social taxation system to an end. We represent a definite alternative when the opposition forces are an obscure minority. The ruling majority has tried to tarnish us but it has failed," said Jens Stoltenberg in explanation of his party's good scores in the polls. The Social Democrat leader enjoys great popularity that extends beyond his electorate. According to a poll nearly a third of Conservative Party supporters (30%) said they preferred Jens Stoltenberg to Kjell Magne Bondevik as Prime Minister; 44% of Progress Party supporters are also of this opinion hence joining in the anti-Kjell Magne Bondevik feeling expressed by their leader. "These polls show that what I am saying is right: the problem is Kjell Magne Bondevik", declared Carl Hagen as he commented this poll.
The latest surveys also show that the Labour Party and the Progress Party have the most stable electorate, the Popular Christian Party the most unstable. "The stability of the Progress Party is a novelty in comparison with the previous elections and this means that the party has more of a chance than ever before of winning votes in its favour on 12th September," said political analyst Bernt Aardal.
Just a week before the election several coalitions are possible. If the leftwing opposition parties fail in winning an absolute majority during the elections on 12th September, the Progress Party will have a major role to play. The Social Democrat leader, Jens Stoltenberg did however say that in this case, "the Prime Minister would continue government," since the Labour Party did not want to form a government minority alone. The other battle will take place during the election when the Conservative Party and the Progress Party will be fighting to become the country's second most popular party, both at present being credited with the same percentage of votes by the polls.