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Norway government faces big defeat in September election, poll shows

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Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg speaks during an Emergency Declaration for Nature and People event after the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/

Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg

Norway's centre-left opposition parties are expected to defeat the incumbent Conservative-led coalition government by a two-to-one margin in next month's election for parliament, a new opinion poll showed on Tuesday (10 August), writes Terje Solsvik, Reuters.

The 13 September vote could thus end Prime Minister Erna Solberg's quest for a third consecutive term and instead give Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Stoere a chance to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with left-leaning groups.

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Widely praised last year for a swift coronavirus lockdown, giving Norway one of Europe's lowest COVID-19 mortality rates, Solberg nevertheless faces a backlash over economic inequality and public sector reforms that have proven unpopular.

In April the prime minister was fined by police for breaking social distancing rules at her birthday gathering, further damaging her standing. Read more.

The Conservatives and smaller parties on the centre-right look set to win 55 seats in the 169-member assembly, down from 88, while the centre-left could grow to 114 from 81, the survey showed.

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The 2-6 August poll by the Kantar agency for independent TV2 comes just as the election campaign kicks off and confirms a downwards trend shown in earlier polls.

Campaigning on a slogan that it is now the "common people's turn", Labour promises tax relief for low and middle income families, an end to privatisation of public services, more money for hospitals and a tax hike on the top 20% of incomes.

Norway's Green Party is also set to boost its presence in parliament, as is the far-left Red, and both will seek to influence a Labour-led government.

Adding to the complexity, Centre leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum has declared himself a candidate for prime minister, rivalling Stoere, although his party now polls around 16%, lagging Labour's 23.5%.

A growing rural-urban divide, in which many voters objected to the reorganisation of police, healthcare and municipalities, in many cases centralising key functions, has been a boost for Vedum, who got just 10.3% in 2017.

European elections

Norway vote winner to start coalition talks with climate focus

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Norway's centre-left opposition parties began coalition talks on Tuesday (14 September) to try to form a majority government after winning a decisive parliamentary election victory, with climate change expected to be central in discussions, write Nora Buli and Gwladys Fouche.

Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere must address voters' concerns over global warming and a widening wealth gap, while ensuring any transition away from oil production - and the jobs it creates - is gradual.

Stoere's goal is to convince both the rural-based Centre Party and the mostly urban Socialist Left to join him, which would give his cabinet 89 seats, four more than what is needed for a majority in the 169-seat assembly.

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"I believe it's worth attempting to form a majority government," Stoere told reporters after votes were counted late on Monday (13 September). Read more

Reuters Graphics
Reuters Graphics

He must persuade Centre and the Socialists to compromise on policies ranging from oil and private ownership to European Union (EU) outsider Norway's relations with the bloc.

In particular, Stoere must persuade them to compromise on energy policy, including where to let oil firms explore for hydrocarbons while also cutting Norway's climate emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. Read more.

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"The likely compromise has to do with restricting exploration, and the less explored and matured areas are easier to stop exploration in," said Baard Lahn, a researcher at Oslo-based climate think-tank CICERO.

"Also the industry has indicated they are less interested in those areas at the moment. That's a possible outcome, but exactly what that will look like, there are many possibilities."

Norway produces around 4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, accounting for over 40% of export revenues.

But most major parties also believe oil will play a smaller part over time, and hope the engineering know-how of oil firms can be transferred to renewable energy, including offshore wind.

"I think that the new coalition will increase the work on climate issue as both the IEA (International Energy Agency) and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report underlined the sense of emergency the world is facing, stating a code red," said Thina Margrethe Saltvedt, Nordea Bank's chief analyst for sustainable finance.

Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she would step down as soon as a new government is ready, with a cabinet headed by Stoere potentially taking office in mid-October.

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European elections

Norway’s left-wing opposition triumphs in general election

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Norway's Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Stoere holds a bouquet of red roses at the Labor Party's election vigil at the People's House during parliamentary elections in Oslo, Norway September 13, 2021.
Norway's Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Stoere holds a bouquet of red roses at the Labor Party's election vigil at the People's House during parliamentary elections in Oslo, Norway September 13, 2021. © Javad Parsa, NTB via Reuters

Norway's left-wing opposition headed by Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Store won Monday's general election after a campaign dominated by questions about the future of the key oil industry in Western Europe's largest producer.

The left-wing unseated a centre-right coalition headed by Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg since 2013.

"We waited, we hoped, and we have worked so hard, and now we can finally say it: We did it!" Store, in all likelihood the next prime minister, told cheering supporters after Solberg conceded defeat.

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The five left-wing opposition parties were projected to win 100 of the 169 seats in parliament.

Labour was even expected to win an absolute majority with its preferred allies, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left, preliminary results showed with more than 95 percent of votes counted.

That eliminated concerns about having to rely on the support of two other opposition parties, the Greens and the communist Red Party.

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"Norway has sent a clear signal: the election shows that the Norwegian people want a fairer society," said the 61-year-old millionaire who campaigned against social inequalities.

Leftist sweep 

The five countries in the Nordic region -- a bastion of social democracy -- will thus all be governed by left-wing governments soon.

"The Conservative government's work is finished for this time around," Solberg told supporters.

"I want to congratulate Jonas Gahr Store, who now seems to have a clear majority for a change of government," said the 60-year-old Solberg who has steered the country through multiple crises, including migration, dropping oil prices and the Covid pandemic over the past eight years.

The Greens had said they would only support a left-wing government if it vowed an immediate end to oil exploration in Norway, an ultimatum Store had rejected.

Store has like the Conservatives, called for a gradual transition away from the oil economy.

Thorny negotiations 

The August "code red for humanity" report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put the issue at the top of the agenda for the election campaign and forced the country to reflect on the oil that has made it immensely rich. 

The report energised those who want to get rid of oil, both on the left and, to a lesser extent, the right.

The oil sector accounts for 14% of Norway's gross domestic product, as well as 40 percent of its exports and 160,000 direct jobs.

In addition, the cash cow has helped the country of 5.4 million people amass the world's biggest sovereign wealth fund, today worth close to 12 trillion kroner (almost 1.2 trillion euros, $1.4 trillion). 

A former minister in the governments of Jens Stoltenberg between 2005 and 2013, Store is now expected to begin negotiations with the Centre, which primarily defends the interests of its rural base, and the Socialist Left, which is a strong advocate for environmental issues.

The trio, which already governed together in Stoltenberg's coalitions, often have diverging positions, notably on the pace at which to exit the oil industry.

The Centrists have also said they would not form a coalition with the Socialist Left. 

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coronavirus

Norway again postpones end to COVID lockdown

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A man wearing a protective mask carries shopping bags as he walks on the streets of Oslo following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Oslo, Norway. NTB Scanpix/Hakon Mosvold Larsen via REUTERS

Norway postponed for a second time on Wednesday (28 July) a planned final step in the reopening of its economy from pandemic lockdown, due to the continued spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, the government said, writes Terje Solsvik, Reuters.

"A new assessment will be made in mid-August," Health Minister Bent Hoeie told a news conference.

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Measures that will be kept in place to halt the spread of COVID-19 include bars and restaurants being limited to table service and limits of 20 people on gatherings in private homes.

The government in April launched a four-step plan to gradually remove most pandemic restrictions, and had completed the first three of those steps by mid-June.

On July 5, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said the fourth step could come in late July or early August at the earliest because of concerns about the Delta coronavirus variant. Read more.

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About 80% of adults in Norway have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 41% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Thanks to an early lockdown in March 2020 and tight restrictions that followed, the nation of 5.4 million people has seen one of Europe's lowest rates of mortality from the virus. Some 800 Norwegians have died from COVID-19.

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