Norway went to the polls yesterday and the message was clear: despite these being local elections, Norwegians delivered a damning verdict on the governing centre-right coalition parties, as all left-leaning parties gained support.
It’s not just about the percentages for the Conservatives, the senior partner in the coalition. Their poor performance saw them potentially lose their grip on Norway’s two biggest cities, Oslo and Bergen. I say potentially because there are a lot of parties in Norway and therefore one party almost never gains more than 50% of the vote in any election. Rather than the vote of any single party, the total “bloc” votes (left / centre / right) are often what matters.
While clearly a good night for the Labour party, who will hope to build on this renewed support to return to power in 2017, the big winners of the night were the Green Party. Their vote share increased from less than 1% to over 4%, on a night that sees them hold the balance of power in Oslo. The Greens have surprised some by saying they are willing to talk with all sides of the political spectrum, so the Conservatives could sneak back into power in Oslo.
Personally, this vote wasn’t so much about the results as it was actually being able to vote in Norway for the first time. Surely a watershed moment for any expat? While foreign residents cannot vote in national elections without becoming Norwegian citizens, we can vote in local and county elections after three-years of residency. As I’ve been here for over four years now, I received my voting card (valgkort) in the post several weeks ago.
I chose to vote in advance last week at Trondheim central library. And I wasn’t alone. I frequently walk through the library on my way to my office and every time there was a queue at the voting booths. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people voted in advance.
Voting in a different country was a strange feeling. The voting system was completely different, a party-list system that also allowed you to compose your own lists. This meant that upon entering the voting booth, I was presented with countless voting slips. It’s a good job I’d read up on how to vote in advance, because otherwise I’d have been completely stumped.
The preliminary results
The large numbers of advance voters meant that when the polls closed at 9pm, early results gave a clear indication of what was to come.
Remember these are local and county elections and don’t affect the make-up of the Norwegian government, but they are important indicators all the same.
Some of the highlights from the preliminary results include:
- The governing coalition partners the Conservatives (-4.7%) and the Progress Party (-1.7%) lost support.
- The Conservatives lost control of Norway’s two biggest cities, Oslo and Bergen.
- The Labour Party, Norway’s main opposition, increased their share of the vote to 33%, their highest level in 28 years.
- Turnout was surprisingly low. At under 60%, it’s Norway’s second lowest turnout ever.
- The far-left Red party enjoyed an astonishing result in Tromsø.
My take is I’m not at all surprised by these results.
A drop in support for coalition parties is always expected at mid-term elections. What’s interesting for me is the bump in support not for the Labour party, but for the other left-leaning parties and the Green Party. What drove these bumps is impossible to say: the oil “crisis”, a verdict on the coalition, the refugee crisis, or, given these were local elections, perhaps local issues played their part too!
Because of Norway’s political system, the aftermath will be more interesting than the results themselves.
Who will do deals with who? Will any party leaders step down? Can the left-leaning parties build on this support, and how will the centre-right coalition adjust their strategy leading into 2017?
Watch this space.
Photo credit: LeAnn E. Crowe