Norway’s PM takes early lead in election
Norway’s governing rightwing bloc, headed by Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg, held a narrow lead in Monday’s general election in the oil-rich nation, official projections showed.
The Conservatives, along with their anti-immigration junior coalition partner the Progress Party and two other centre-right allies, were on track to win a majority of 87 of the 169 seats in parliament, with 74 percent of votes counted.
The leftwing opposition, headed by Labour leader Jonas Gahr Store, and the independent Green Party, which has ruled out a collaboration with the Progress Party, was expected to take 82 seats.
Much will depend on whether Solberg’s centre-right allies, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, manage to break a key threshold in the vote.
More weight is given to the votes won by parties that capture more than four percent of ballots, which translates into more seats in parliament. Both parties were hovering around that mark.
An exit poll published by the Verdens Gang newspaper and projections calculated by the TV2 television channel also predicted a slight lead for the rightwing parties.
At the Conservatives election night rally in central Oslo, supporters chanted “Erna! Erna!” after the first projections appeared on a large screen.
The results appeared to confirm opinion polls which had predicted an extraordinarily close race in “the world’s happiest country”.
If confirmed, it will be the first time in more than 30 years a Conservative prime minister has won a second straight term.
‘Ready for four more years’
In power since 2013, Solberg had campaigned on a pledge of continuity.
“I’m ready for four more years,” the popular and experienced 56-year-old Solberg said as she voted Monday in a school in her hometown of Bergen on the west coast.
“Let’s see if the Norwegian people are ready for four more years with me.”
Her government has successfully steered the wealthy country of 5.3 million — Western Europe’s biggest oil producer — through two crises: the oil industry’s slump after the drop in crude prices since 2014 and the migrant crisis in 2015.
Over the past four years, the right has focused on kickstarting the economy and laying the groundwork for the post-oil era by reducing taxes.
But the opposition and many economists have criticised the government for dipping too generously into the country’s huge sovereign wealth fund, worth almost $1 trillion (800 million euros).
Meanwhile, Store, a millionaire, had vowed to raise taxes for the richest in a bid to bolster Norwegians’ cherished welfare state and reduce inequalities in society.
“We need a change now because we are growing apart from each other,” the 57-year-old Labour leader said after casting his ballot on Sunday, an option offered in many municipalities.
Norway is blessed with high living standards, education and a comprehensive welfare state — qualities that helped it to be named the happiest country in the world in a respected UN study in March.
The Conservatives and Labour agree on many issues: continued oil activities in the Arctic, a restricted immigration policy, and close ties with the EU, of which Norway is not a member.
Yet Labour has criticised Solberg for her difficulty in taming her occasionally provocative junior coalition partner, the Progress Party, especially Immigration and Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug.
Labour and the Conservatives both appeared to post lower election scores compared to four years ago.
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