Norway’s center-right opposition, pledging privatization, tax cuts and smaller government, was set for a sweeping election win on Monday but faces difficult coalition talks since a populist anti-immigration party will hold the balance of power. Norway has enjoyed rare economic success, thanks to its flourishing offshore oil sector boosting per capita GDP to $100,000. But growth is slowing and voters are ready to punish Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, accusing him of wasting a once-in-a-lifetime economic boom. “To me, this vote is about using our fortunes better,” Oslo voter Geir Henriksen, 36, said. “Public service, like health and elderly care, is not getting any better even as the government spends more and more. We need to rebalance government.” Labour could still end up as the biggest party with 30 percent, opinion polls show, but that will not be enough. The four center-right parties, led by likely future prime minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives, are on course for around 100 seats in parliament, 15 more than needed for a majority.
It seemed a perfectly-timed stunt from Jens Stoltenberg. The Norwegian prime minister, lagging behind opposition parties ahead of parliamentary elections next month, pretended to be a taxi driver around Oslo, demonstrating his charm to ordinary voters. But then things started to go wrong. It transpired some of his passengers had been paid to make the journey while the whole thing had been dreamt up by Try Advertising, the governing Labour party’s ad agency. Worst of all, one of his passengers complained his bad driving had worsened her back problems. As Mr Stoltenberg said: “I think the country and Norwegian taxi passengers are best served if I am the prime minister and not a taxi driver.”
Norway’s national parliamentary election is less than six weeks away, but only now are politicians returning from their summer holidays and getting into campaign mode. Many voters seem to assume that Norway’s non-socialist parties will win this time, leading to worries that voter turnout may be low. Public opinion polls have for months showed the non-socialist (borgerlig) parties in the lead, with the Conservatives (Høyre) keen to head a coalition government that’s likely, for the first time, to include the even more conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). A recent study by three researchers at statistics firm Norsk Regnesentral indicated there’s a 91.5 percent probability for a Høyre-Frp majority, and less than a 5 percent chance that Norway’s current left-center government coalition led by Labour will win a third term. Despite the polls and prognoses that Høyre and Frp look set to win a majority in Parliament (Storting) alone, Høyre leader Erna Solberg wants to include the much smaller Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) and the Liberals (Venstre) in the government. That will make it tougher to agree on a common platform, but may make it easier for Solberg to temper some of Frp’s more hard-line stands on, for example, use of oil revenues and limits on immigration.