Norway goes to the polls tonight, with Conservative prime minister Erna Solberg seeking an unprecedented third term in office. Solberg’s administration, in office since 2013, is already the longest-lasting centre-right government in Norway’s history, but its prospects for securing another four years are not good.
At the 2017 election, the four-party alliance supporting Solberg won 48.8% of the vote and 88 of the 169 seats in parliament. The Conservatives had 45 seats and their previous coalition partner, the far-right Progress Party, had 27; their majority depended on two smaller and more centrist parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, each with eight seats.
Ranged against them were five left and centre-left parties: Labour, Centre (agrarian), the Socialist Left (mainstream far left), the Greens and the Red Party (more extreme left). Between them they had 49.0% of the vote but won only 81 seats: as I put it at the time, the “opposition may reasonably feel that it got a bad deal from the electoral system.”
The problem was in the threshold. Parties need to win 4% of the vote to qualify for proportional seats (legislation has been passed to lower that to 3%, but it won’t take effect until the following election). The Liberals and the Christian Democrats were just over, with 4.4% and 4.2% respectively; the Greens (3.2%) and the Reds (2.4%), however, were just under, so they collected only the one district seat each that they had been able to win.
But the electoral system can only help you so far. Opinion polls show the four pro-government parties (the Progress Party left the government last year but has continued to support it – there is no constitutional provision for early elections) attracting only about 40% in aggregate, with the Liberals and Christian Democrats again struggling to stay above the 4% mark. The opposition is polling in the mid- to high 50s, so unless something very unusual is happening it should win a clear majority.
That doesn’t mean things will be easy for Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre. A coalition stretching from the rural populists of the Centre to the Marxist Reds would be an unwieldy beast, to put it mildly. The Reds are polling at around 6% and look set to pass the threshold for the first time, but if the opposition as a whole does well then it may still be able to win a majority without them.
Disagreements over the future of fossil fuel exploitation are also a likely source of trouble, especially if – as seems probable – the Greens are required for a majority.
Last time around I cited the Norwegian result as “further evidence that the European scene is settling down into more mainstream ways” after all the furore about “populism”. That trend continues: although there has been a general shift towards the left, the top five parties look like finishing in the same order as they did four years ago. Even the Progress Party, which stands to lose ground for the third election running, is quite moderate by the standards of the European far right.
Polls close at 4am tomorrow, eastern Australian time, so results should be reasonably clear by breakfast time.