Last month when my friend Colin was here I wrote about the Norwegian local elections. During that weekend, aside from being inundated with colourful election leaflets around the city streets, we decided to visit Stortinget, the Norwegian Parliament.
It was a fascinating time to visit, just a few weeks after the terrorist attack and two days before the local elections. While we were inside, several election agents with oversized badges and ribbons raced past us clutching bundles of leaflets, oh how it reminded me of times gone by!
Our tour guide was quite the character and the undoubted highlight of the day. His passion for Norway and the democratic process was infectious, but it was the inappropriate sharing of his personal beliefs that tickled me most – sharing his personal voting preferences, calling the speaker of the house a dictator and championing the formation of a Scandinavian Union as an alternative to the EU – not what you’d expect from an employee of Parliament 😉
What I found most interesting was the history of the building itself and its relation to the fascinating story of Oslo. In 1866 the Storting was constructed with the main chamber facing away from old city, towards the Royal Palace and what would become the “new” Oslo. The curved room at the front of the Storting is actually the main chamber where MPs sit. It was quite a political statement at the time and from inside the chamber looking out towards the Royal Palace, I really got a sense of what they were trying to achieve. From that window you can see the Royal Palace, National Theatre and University of Oslo buildings.
On the tour you hear a lot about how politics in Norway works along with the history of the building itself. Some brief snippets of interesting information for you:
- 169 MPs are elected for 4-year terms by Proportional Representation from 19 multi-seat constituencies, from Oslo in the south-east to Finnmark by the border with Russia
- There are 7 parties represented in the Storting, ranging from the Labour party with 64 seats to the Liberal Party with just 2 seats
- The system of lower-house and upper-house was abolished in 2009
- Prime Minister (and leader of the Labour party) Jens Stoltenberg and his cabinet do not sit in the chamber, therefore the Labour Party has a different Parliamentary leader, Helga Pedersen
By the way, the local election results showed a bounce for the Labour party and a drop in vote for the Progress party, largely due to Jens Stoltenberg’s handling of the terror attack and Anders Behring Breivik’s links to the Progress party respectively. It will be interesting to see if this is replicated in future elections, in particular the 2013 General Election.