Election Preview: Norway 2009

Norway goes to the polls to elect its 169-seat unicameral legislature, the Storting, last elected in September 2005. Norway is a very interesting country politically, and is known in the world for it’s high standard of living, it’s Nordic-style welfare state system, and also it’s relationship with the European Union. It also has a reputation for being a stronghold of socialist or social democratic politics, and this tradition is not a myth: the Labour Party has governed Norway for an important part of the recent post-war era, and probably has governed the country the longest amount of time since Norway gained independence from Sweden in 1905.

The Norwegian party system is a mix of stability, meaning old parties, but also newer parties that can often replace the older parties and even throw these parties into irrelevance. The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA – an interesting abbreviation since the D stands for det or ‘the’, something which is extremely rarely used in abbreviations) was founded in 1887 and gained parliamentary representation as a fringe Marxist party in 1903. DNA was a founding member of the Communist Internationale, which led to a short split in the party between the Marxist DNA and the social democratic or moderate wing. The party, however, did not long endure the democratic centralism and the interference of Moscow, and DNA left the Internationale in 1923 and the split ended soon afterwards. A fringe Communist Party (NKP) was founded by the hardliners in the party, but remained minor (despite a rather active role in the resistance during World War II) and shot themselves in the foot in the ’60’s by expelling a popular former leader (who was a resistance hero). The Labour Party became a major player in the 1930s by abandoning the revolutionary rhetoric for social democracy. Einar Gerhardsen was Prime Minister of Norway for nearly twenty-years after 1945, leading centre-left economic policies, a pro-Western foreign policy course, and laying the base of Norway’s advanced social programs. Today’s Labour Party, led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, is supportive of the market economy and is strongly socially liberal (gay marriage became legal in 2009) and secular (the government passed a law decreeing separation of church and state, the Church of Norway maintains an important role in Norwegian society), but also favours Norway’s adhesion to the EU.

As much as DNA represents stability, the title of first non-socialist party or, more commonly, premiere opposition, has shown more instability. Since 2005, this title is held by the Progress Party. The Progress Party was founded in 1973 by Anders Lange as a tax protest party, to protest Norway’s very high taxes but also government intervention and foreign aid. Surprisingly, perhaps, the party is ambivalent on the issue of the EU, and has copped-out by pledging to stand with the ‘people’s decision’. Since 1973, despite a few falls, the Progress Party has been experiencing a continued rise in electoral results and polling numbers. This continues to this day, especially with the anti-immigration, conservative rhetoric of its young leader, Siv Jensen. Do note that Norway has been experiencing important Muslim immigration in recent years. The party can be described as a conservative or right-wing libertarian party.

The Conservative Party (Høyre, meaning ‘Right’) is one of the oldest Norwegian parties (1884), along with the Liberal Party, and dominated early Norwegian politics and remained, for most of the post-war era, the main non-socialist political party. The Conservative Party supports neoliberal economics, favouring tax cuts and little government intervention. However, conservatives from the United States are often appalled to learn that the Conservatives are social liberals, supporting gay marriage and adoption. The Conservatives also support Norway’s adhesion to the EU.

The Socialist Left Party (SV) is also a more recent party, founded in 1975 by hard-left movements who campaigned against Norway’s adhesion to the EEC in a 1972 referendum, which failed. The founding members of SV included left-wing parties, most of which split off from DNA in opposition to Labour’s pro-NATO and more centrist policies and also the Communist Party (however, the NKP later separated from SV and both parties are independent). SV is very socially liberal and eco-socialist, but is also markedly anti-Israel and anti-American. The SV also opposes joining the EU.

The Christian Democrats (KrF), founded in 1933 but important only since 1945 or so, is a old-style Christian democratic party which places more emphasis than modern Christian democrats in Europe do on social issues such as abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage. They are, to my knowledge, the only officially pro-life party. On economic matters, however, they are more centrist and they also oppose joining the EU.

Typical to Scandinavia, Norway has a Centre Party, or an agrarian party. Compared to Sweden’s Centre Party, which has become more ‘urbanized’ (socially liberal) and environmentalist, Norway’s Centre Party has remained more “pure”, if you want. It is hard to associate an ideology such as liberalism, conservatism, or socialism with the Centre Party, since they’re primarily a rural centrist party. They have supported both right-wing and left-wing (as they do now) governments. The Centre opposes EU membership.

The Liberal Party (Venstre, meaning ‘Left) is a pitiful shadow of its former self. Once the major opponent to the ‘Right’, the Liberals have declined into near irrelevancy since the rise of Labour, but also the division over the European issue in 1972-1973. The Liberals, in the past, were the party of social and constitutional reform and democratic institutions and the base of the very early labour movement in Norwegian politics. Today, the Liberals are strongly socially liberal, secular, and quite environmentalist. They could be called, in that sense, a green liberal party. On economic issues, the Liberals favour a guaranteed minimum income and the introduction of a flat tax. For those interested, the Liberals also advocate legal file-sharing. On European issues, the Liberals are closely divided between opponents and supporters of European Union membership, although its current line remains opposition to the EU.

The largest extra-parliamentary parties are Red (Rødt), a revolutionary socialist/Marxist party; and the Coastal Party, a fishermen’s party based in the northern Norwegian town of Karlsøy. The Coastal Party had representation in parliament until 2001.

Norway’s legislature is elected using proportional representations in 19 multi-member constituencies, which are also Norway’s administrative counties. The city of Oslo is also an independent constituency, as well as a county. The results of the 2005 election are shown below:

Following the election, a majority coalition was formed between Labour, the Socialist Left and the Centre. Since 2001, the government was centre-right coalition including the Conservatives, Christian Democrats (whose leader was Prime Minister) and the Liberals and receiving conditional Progress support.

Labour 32.7% (+8.4%) winning 61 seats (+18)
Progress 22.1% (+7.4%) winning 38 seats (+12)
Conservative 14.1% (-7.1%) winning 23 seats (-15)
Socialist Left 8.8% (-3.7%) winning 15 seats (-8)
Christian Democratic 6.8% (-5.6%) winning 11 seats (-11)
Centre 6.5% (+0.9%) winning 11 seats (+1)
Liberal 5.9% (+2.0%) winning 10 seats (+8)
Red Electoral Alliance 1.2% winning 0 seats
Coastal Party 0.8% winning 0 seats (-1)

Norway 2005-2

The above map shows the winning ‘coalition’ – the then-government and the RedRedGreen current coalition. The centre-right is strong in Nynorsk-speaking south-western Norway, which is very clerical, conservative and rural. In addition, it is also strong in Oslo – the capital city (following a trend also observed in Stockholm and Helsinki, capital cities often vote right-wing in those countries. Copenhagen is different and weird). For reference, the Conservatives were the biggest right-wing party in Oslo, while Progress was the strongest right-wing party in all counties won by the right. Labour dominates northern Norway, where offshore oil, fishing and I think mining are important. It is also strong in central inland Norway, which is dominated by the timber industry. Maps and statistics for all parties can be found, in Norwegian, here.

Norway faces a close election. While Jens Stoltenberg remains quite popular, the populist and anti-immigration message of the Progress Party’s leader, Siv Jensen, is proving to be quite popular. Here is what the latest poll, TNS Gallup/TV2 on September 4 indicate:

Labour 33.9% winning 64 seats (+3)
Progress 23.7% winning 41 seats (+3)
Conservative 15.2% winning 24 seats (+1)
Socialist Left 7.3% winning 12 seats (-3)
Christian Democratic 5.6% winning 9 seats (-2)
Centre 5.6% winning 9 seats (-2)
Liberal 5.4% winning 9 seats (-1)
Red 2.1%

This indicates 85 seats for Red-Red-Green against 83 for Progress and the centre-right. Others polls have also been showing majorities for the opposition. It is, however, possible (in my opinion) that the Liberals could join the centre-left coalition and perhaps not a Progress-led coalition government.

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Posted on September 5, 2009, in Election Preview, Norway. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is a very nice blog! I would like to just leave a few comments about the Norwegian election as a fellow elections-nerd and a (foreign) resident of Norway.

    1. DNA is hardly used for Labour, the common abbreviation popularly employed is Ap (Arbeiderpartiet).

    2. We could add about Frp that it derives its popularity partly from its anti-immigration rhetoric but especially from its populist economics which is anti-most all taxes but pro-most all welfare spending. The latter makes it not so purely libertarian. However, they are still pro-free trade and neutral on the EU. They have also mostly voted against gay marriage but take a liberal line on abortion and now, controversially, euthanasia.

    3. You could also call Centre a productivist or producerist party since it favours heavy industrial and agricultural production and protectionism. It is green in terms of land conservation and not green where this would adversely affect rural voters (favouring more road construction, for example). I think it gives its MPs a free vote on social issues and they split but their electorate is fairly conservative.

    4. Red is more soft New Left than revolutionary, though its predecessors were certainly very Marxist.

    5. Yes, Scandinavia is a bit unique insofar as rural areas are more politically left-wing. Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansand, and Stavanger are right-wing cities, generally electing bourgeois governments. Trondheim and Tromsø are very left-wing, though. The Progress Party has fairly even support in rural and urban areas but the Conservatives are very strongly urban. This might explain the social liberalism of the Scandinavian centre-right as its electorate is demographically resembles the urban upscale yuppie Democrats of the US.

    6. The interesting issue is what the next govt will be. If Red-Green gets a majority, and actually most polls now put them slightly short, then they will continue. Otherwise, people have their money on a Labour minority govt. Why? This is because a “bourgeois” majority involves 4 parties that won’t all work together. The Conservatives are the only party that will speak to Progress and to the centrist parties (Liberals and Christians). However, unlike in the last Bondevik govt (2001-5), Progress says it will not support a govt in which it does not participate. The problem then is that the centrist parties say they will not be in a govt with Progress and would prefer the Labour Prime Minister to Siv Jensen as head of govt. Much of the press favours a Conservative-Liberal-Christian government, but it is clear this grouping only has about a quarter of the electorate backing it, rivalling all of Progress, and can never win an election. Therefore the “blue-green” option seems to have had a premature death.

    It is not only elite opinion, either, that is against Ms Jensen. A recent poll of Liberal and KrF voters found under 10% of each wanted to cooperate with Progress.

    Look then for Stoltenberg to continue as prime minister, even if it means a minority govt relying on centrist party support in confidence votes. This would be far more unstable and could lead to an early election.

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