07/09/2009 - D-7
On 14th September next around 3 million Norwegians will be electing the 169 members of the next Storting (Parliament) from amongst the 3,682 candidates from 24 parties. On 29th August, 206,875 voters had already voted. Early voting started on 1st July last. The result of the far right party, the Progress Party (FrP) and its possible entry into government comprises the main stake in this election.
The outgoing government coalition formed by the Labour Party (DNA) led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, the Centre Party (Sp) led by Liv Signe Navarsete and the Left Socialist Party (SV) led by Kristin Halvorsen, has focused its programme on defending employment and a strong, fairer Welfare State. In 2009 the government decided to use 130 billion krone (14.7 billion €) from the Global Pension Fund, whose resources lie in the oil industry, to stimulate the national economy.
The 'continental' Norwegian GDP, i.e. excluding hydrocarbons and maritime transport is due to contract by 1.2% in 2009 which is less than initially forecast (1.4%). In the second quarter Norway emerged from the recession notably thanks to an extensive government recovery plan, high investments in oil and heavy interest rates reductions and improvements in the world economy. According to the Organisation for Cooperation and Development in Europe Norway is the country which implemented the greatest financial measures in the world to support its budget. In proportion to the economy the State's contribution to the budget which was possible thanks to the Global Pension Fund, was six times higher in Norway than it was in the euro area. Unemployment which is low (3% of the population) increased by 74% between August 2008 and 2009.
In an interview with the Dagbladet on 30th August last Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said he wanted to make the labour market more flexible, to improve the quality of schools and health services and to turn Norway into the most successful country in the world in terms of harnessing and the storage of CO2 over the next term in office.
The opposition, which covers a wide range of parties from the centre-right to the populists, set off on a disorganized course; the Liberal Party (V) led by Lars Sponheim, the People's Christian Party (KrF) led by Dagfinn Hoybraten and the Conservative Party (H) led by Erna Solberg would a priori refuse to form a government with the Progress Party (FrP) led by Siv Jensen. The chairman of the People's Christian Party Dagfinn Hoybraten has however said that he was prepared to "talk" with the Progress Party after the general election if the outgoing government coalition lost the majority. Lars Sponheim said he had decided to approve a motion of censure against the government if it lost the majority and if the three rightwing parties are able to replace the outgoing coalition. The Liberal leader said that he would never support a government led by the Progress Party. When some people reminded him that his party had negotiated with the Populist Party in Oslo Lars Sponheim stressed that the agreement in Oslo was simply local and that he would not accept negotiation on a national level.
The Progress Party announced the programme it intended to implement in the first 100 days of its term in office if it won on 14th September. This includes 101 points. Running under the banner of "Security and Freedom of Choice" the party is putting forward a privatization programme to a total value of 73.6 billion krone (8.6 billion €). It wants to sell some or part of the shares the State holds in 13 groups. The Progress Party would reduce the shares the State holds from 54% to 34% in Telenor (telecommunications), from 100% to 67% in Statkraft (electricity) and from 43.8% to 34% in Norsk Hydro (aluminium). The 14.3% held by the State in SAS, the Scandinavian airline which is struggling at present, would be relinquished completely. However, the State would retain its 67% share in the oil giant StatoilHydro.
This FrP proposal led to a sharp reaction on the part of Roar Flathen, chairman of the Confederation of Norwegian Unions who already said that he thought that the FrP's policy was not compatible with the unions' interests and that he was convinced that the Norsk Hydro shares will be taken over by Chinese shareholders. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that this measure "would reduce the country's revenues significantly" and stressed that Norway did not have any liquidity problems.
The Progress Party hopes to reform the health sector and reduce the number of people waiting for treatment in hospitals by developing a private health service. Both populist and liberal the FrP is demanding even greater tax reductions (and the suppression of the wealth tax), the partial privatization of the education sector and an increased use of State oil revenues as well as a restrictive immigration policy. Siv Jensen, chair of the Progress Party has however said that her party would not support the suppression of the wealth or inheritance tax if it came from a rightwing government comprising the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the People's Christian Party if the FrP was not a member of the government. "We do not want to agree on a budget with a rightwing government in which we are not taking part," she said.
For their part the rightwing forces are pushing for tax reductions that would be partly funded by increased use of the country's oil revenues. Erna Solberg, chair of the Conservative Party indicated that her party had drawn up an action plan to reduce the number of people who receive social aid in Norway and to encourage them to work. She indicated that her party wanted to make the healthcare sector its priority and said that she would order hospitals to use private services to reduce the number of people who were waiting for treatment.
The People's Christian Party is highlighting the fight against poverty and the policy in support of families and the elderly.
According to a poll by Synovate, published on 29th August last in the daily Dagbladet, education, environment and care of the elderly are the three most important themes for the electorate. Finally the Norwegian Business Confederation (NHO), called on to assess the various political parties, granted its best score to Conservative Party, followed by the Liberal Party and then the Progress Party. The NHO is demanding the four rightwing parties find a solution to form a government if they win the majority on 14h September next.
One week before the election the rightwing opposition forces have a slight lead over the outgoing left coalition if all of the 16 polls undertaken are considered. According to NTB and using these polls as a base the four rightwing parties may win 88 of the 169 seats in Parliament, the outgoing government coalition 79 seats, the two remaining seats would go to the far left party, Red, which was formed in March 2007 after a merger between the Red Electoral Alliance (RV) and the Communist Workers' Party (AK); it is led by Thorstein Dahle. This party might therefore find itself in the decisive position of kingmaker after the general elections. One quarter of those interviewed said they had not decided which party they would vote for.
According to the poll undertaken by TNS Gallup, published at the end of August ¾ of the Norwegians (76.4%) think that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will retain his post after the election. Only 18.1% of those interviewed see the next Head of Government in Siv Jensen and 4.6% think that the post will go to Erna Solberg. When interviewed about the legislature that is now ending the Norwegians are divided: 47% believe that the outgoing Prime Minister has worked well, 42% think it the quality of his political work "average" in a poll undertaken by Synovate. "Those who not only believe and also want me to remain Prime Minister must vote for their wish to come true," recalled Jens Stoltenberg.
"The polls in August declare that the outgoing red-green coalition has reason to be quite optimistic," said political analyst Hanne Marthe Narud. Like the Norwegians many political analysts think that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has a good chance of maintaining his position as head of the coalition – given the divisions on the right, and become head of a minority, exclusively Labour government (we should remember that the coalition formed in 2005 by the Labour leader was the first majority government in 20 years, since no other political party had succeeded in winning the absolute majority in the Norwegian Parliament since 1961. "Those who think they can forecast what will happen after the general elections do not know what they are talking about. Firstly because many voters only decide in the last week, and secondly before the polls are very tight," indicates Harald Stanghelle, head of the political department of the daily Aftenposten. The journalist believes it highly likely however that the Head of Government will maintain his position.
Just a few days from the election three government coalitions seem plausible: the re-election of the outgoing coalition comprising the Labour Party, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party, a minority government comprising the Labour Party alone, or a minority government allying the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the People's Christian Party.