A forecast for the 2017 Norwegian elections

Norway’s present government has two parties represented among its Cabinet Ministers and relies on an additional two coalition partners to get a majority in Parliament.

Norway has a long tradition of minority rule. Eight parties are represented in Parliament, with 169 seats in total.

Since World War II, there has only been 10 years of majority government. The former centre-left (red-green coalition) formed a majority in Parliament in the period from 2005 till 2013. During this time, power shifted from Parliament toward the Ministries and from public debates to meetings behind closed doors.

After the elections in September 2013, the centre-left coalition handed over power to another coalition, this time made up of the Conservatives (Høyre) and The Progress Party (FrP).

The Progress Party – the first timers.

The party has been a strong advocate for free market policies, including tax cuts and relatively little government involvement in the economy. It does however, support the continued existence of the extensive Norwegian welfare state.

The party is often accused of populism, belonging to the far right, and for being economically irresponsible. Many commentators claim the last 3 years is the beginning of the end of the party’s ability to feed on opportunism. Recent polls seem to indicate the opposite.

This is partly because the Progress Party has gained results on important issues for their voters, like tax-cuts, faster roadbuilding and tighter immigration policies. Secondly, because of the recent development in European immigration and the fight against terror. Thirdly, because the two governing parties “steal” few voters from each other (The Progress Party competes mostly with Labour) and lastly, and probably the most underestimated cause; the leadership of Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

2017 – Will the centre-right remain in power or will the people elect another centre-left government?

In last year’s local elections, both the Conservatives (-4.7%) and the Progress Party (-1.7%) lost support. The Conservatives also lost control of Norway’s two largest cities, Oslo and Bergen. The Labour Party, Norway’s main opposition party, increased their share of the vote to 33%, their best local election result in 28 years.

Five expectations for the 2017 election campaign:

1. The Conservative Party and the Progress Party are “tied to the mast” and need at least four more years to implement and complete large reforms such as:
-Health: free choice of treatment at the government’s expense in both public and private hospitals;
-Education: turning the teaching profession into a high-status occupation that motivates the best students to choose teacher training after high school;
-Public sector: digital innovation and a large scale merge of municipalities.

2. Norwegian election campaigns differ a lot from a presidential campaign in the US or a national election in Britain, due to the number of parties running for Parliament and the representative electoral system. Still, the campaign will be a fight for the Premiership – right vs. left, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg vs. leader of the opposition, Jonas Gahr Støre (Labour).

3. Wild cards:
-The Christian Democrats currently favours the centre-right. If that changes it may tip the majority from the centre-right to the centre-left. Both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition will try hard to win them over. They are in a battle for the king making support of the centrist parties.
-A rise in the oil price could give the economy a much needed boost. That again could drum up support for the governing coalition.

4.Three questions that need to be answered by all parties during the campaign are:
-How to tackle weak economic growth and unemployment, particularly in the south-west due to a lower oil price?
-How to prevent social division in a time of high immigration?
-How can Norway best fight global warming and climate change?

5.Top three points of disagreement between the government and the opposition:
-Freedom of choice in publicly funded welfare systems. Is this a threat or a precondition to maintain the Norwegian welfare model?
-Job security: The Labour Party and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) strongly opposes liberalisation in temporary hiring, locally agreed job rotation schemes, and other flexible working time schemes based on local needs?
-The economy: How to grow the economy and increase employment?

Words  Peter Skovholt Gitmark (Burson-Marsteller Oslo)
Photos CC/Flickr wefi_official

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