Norway is the only Scandinavian country that is currently still ruled by a Conservative. According to experts, however, a social democrat will soon be in charge again in Oslo.
Erna Solberg is in a way something like a Norwegian Angela Merkel: The conservative Prime Minister is considered a technically precise, sober politician, in TV duels she relies on detailed explanations instead of populist tones. Solberg and Merkel are valued by many voters for their level-headedness, both have ruled their countries for years – and for both of them the term of office could now be over. While the Chancellor, after 16 years in power in Berlin, will step down of her own accord after the general election, 800 kilometers further north in Oslo the Solberg era could come to an end after eight years if the center-left parties were successful in the elections.
Because the smile that is certain of victory and the victory sign, with which Solberg is depicted on a flyer of her conservative party Høyre, cannot hide the opinion polls: Although the Solberg government got its country through the corona crisis comparatively well and there were hardly any other mistakes has made, everything speaks for a change of government ahead of the parliamentary elections on Monday. After two terms in office under the Conservative, experts consider it very likely that Norway, like its Nordic partners Denmark, Sweden and Finland, will soon again be dominated by the Social Democrats.
Expert: The population wants change
“The chances of a change of government are very high,” says election researcher Bernt Aardal. For something to change, there would have to be an earthquake among the electorate the likes of which Norway has never experienced, says the expert from the Institute for Social Research in Oslo. It is in the nature of the democratic system that after a few years the people in Norway want a change and the incumbent government has worn out a bit – despite the fact that things are actually going pretty well in the country.
The wealthy oil nation with around 5.4 million inhabitants recently took first place in a country ranking by the business news agency Bloomberg for successful crisis management in the corona pandemic. In spring 2020, the government was one of the first to adopt strict measures and close the borders. Solberg had given the procedure a boost in opinion polls – but not enough to survive until the election.
Instead, everything has been pointing for months to the fact that the head of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, Jonas Gahr Støre, will be the next head of government. His party is clearly the strongest center-left force in the polls. “If this side gets a majority, it is basically the only way for the Labor Party to receive the post of prime minister,” says election researcher Johannes Bergh. There has been a lot of movement in the polls recently, but not from left to right. So there should be a stable majority in favor of a center-left alliance – the only question is how this alliance will actually look after the election.
Jonas Gahr Støre: Is he the new Norwegian head of government? (Source: ZUMA Wire / imago images)
The 61-year-old former Foreign Minister Støre narrowly failed in the previous Norway election in 2017 because of Solberg, although his party had become the strongest force. At that time, however, Solberg was able to rely on the stronger coalition partners. The fact that this is now likely to be different has in part to do with the most important election campaign issue: climate and environmental protection.
Competition from the farmers’ party?
For a while, the polls looked as if Støre’s Social Democrats and Solberg’s Conservatives could face stiff competition from the Center Party. The party, which once operated as a farmers’ party, sees itself as a fighter for the concerns of the rural population and has benefited from the old urban-rural conflict in the area of Norway. But then the new report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out in August – and the climate issue covered everything.
As a result, the Center Party was no longer able to score with criticism of perceived centralization in Oslo. Instead, smaller parties with a clear climate and environmental focus have been added, including the Socialist Left Party, the social-liberal Venstre, the Greens and the left-wing Red party. While these four parties are fighting for green votes, Støre’s Workers’ Party is faced with the dilemma of not being considered green enough to become, says Aardal. He and his colleagues suspect that these parties will demand decent concessions from Støre in return for their support – even if many possible coalition partners disagree with one another.
The Social Democrats are thus facing perhaps the worst election result in almost 100 years – and could still get the post of head of government. Election analyst Jørgen Bølstad from the University of Oslo estimates the chances for an alliance of Social Democrats, Center Party and Socialist Left Party at more than 60 percent. Nor does he rule out a social democratic minority government.
And Solberg? For them, after eight years, the government seems to be over for the time being. The Bølstad measures their chances of a parliamentary majority at less than one percent.