Sunday

17th Oct 2021

Norway turns left, elects Støre as new leader

  • Jonas Gahr Støre expected to take office in October (Photo: Arbeiderpartiet)
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After eight years, Erna Solberg's tenure as prime minister ended last night: Norway made a left turn and a centre-left government will take over.

Shortly after 11PM on Monday (13 September), Solberg placed a congratulatory call to Jonas Gahr Støre, the leader of the Arbeiderpartiet (Labour party) and the all-but certain next prime minister of the country.  

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In his victory speech, Støre underlined that a large majority of Norwegians voted for a change in government. The five parties on the left on the political spectrum are poised for a sizeable majority in Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament - as many as 100 out of 169 seats, according to preliminary results.

Støre said he will now start negotiating with the two parties that make up what he calls his "dream coalition" - SV (the Socialist Left party) and Senterpartiet (the Centre party). This would mean a restoration of the last centre-left government from 2005 to 2013. 

The preliminary results show that the three parties will get more than the 85 seats required for a majority in Stortinget. Had he fallen short, Støre would also have needed support from the MDG (Green party) and the old Maoist party Rødt (the Red party).

While the election result is a big victory for Støre personally, whose leadership tenure has been haunted by the 2017 election defeat, his Arbeiderpartiet only received 26.4 percent of the vote.

This is the worst election result for Norway's leading social democratic party in 20 years, and the second straight election where the party's share of the vote decreased. 

Who is Norway's new PM?

Støre does not fit the profile of a traditional social democratic politician.

He is one of the richest politicians in Norway. He was educated at the elite Science Po academy in Paris and speaks fluent French.

He started out in politics as an advisor to prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 90's and became foreign minister in 2005.

He will need all his skills as a negotiator when he prepares to form a government and build his political platform. And that will not be easy, because there are serious differences between the three parties.

Norway's relationship with the EU will be one of the biggest issues. Arbeiderpartiet is a strong defender of the existing 'European Economic Area' trade agreement, but SV and Senterpartiet want to renegotiate the arrangement.

While early exit polls made it clear that Solberg would no longer be prime minister and Støre would take over, the election did not lack drama.

Four parties fought a hard battle against the four percent election threshold, which gives political parties a chance to compete for 19 at-large seats in Stortinget. For the first time Rødt, the old Maoist party, received eight seats, up from one today.

Meanwhile, two junior parties in Solberg's government had a long night watching the results trickle in.

KrF (the Christian party) could not quite make it, with just 3.8 percent, while Venstre (the Liberal party) could celebrate with 4.5 percent, in what was otherwise a disappointing election for the right.

The MDG (Green party) fell just short, which was a surprise for the party's leadership.

Climate change

Meanwhile, after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published in August, climate change became the most debated issue in the run-up to the Norwegian election.

Norway has three parties who deem themselves "climate parties" - Venstre, SV, and MDG.

All three gained in the polls in the weeks leading up to the election, but as votes were counted it was clear they all underperformed.

Even so, the election campaign showed that almost all political parties in Norway are seriously engaged on the climate issue.

And while Solberg lost her bid for a historic third straight term as prime minister, she made a promise in her speech to the party faithful in Oslo: We will be back in 2025.

Solberg's future

She will now return to being the leader of the Conservative party in parliament. She is the party's longest serving prime minister and, at just 60 years old, speculation about her political future will only increase in the months ahead.

There is a tradition that former Norwegian prime ministers end their career with a post on the international stage, just as Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has done, and there will, no doubt, be expectation about her candidacy for various international roles.

Solberg's government will remain in place until October, when the new government is expected to be formed.

Norway's election sees new scrutiny on EEA membership

The EU is the most important market for Norwegian goods, from salmon to natural gas. But after Norway's election in September, Oslo may get a government where the majority oppose the current European Economic Area agreement.

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