First, a heartfelt thanks to RRH for inviting me to post about this subject.
My homeland of Norway, a wealthy Scandinavian nation the size of Montana, with a little over 5 million people, has national elections Monday 9/11. The polls close at 3PM ET (9PM local) and since I don’t teach on Tuesdays, I’ll stay up and liveblog Monday night. A couple of Election Day polls will be published at 3PM sharp (they should be posted here and here), but historically the numbers have not necessarily been predictive of the final results. Voters will elect the 169 members of Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament. The composition of parliament will decide who gets to govern. Due to concerns over cybersecurity (hello, Putin!), the Secretary of Interior decided last week that all votes must be counted by hand, so the results in some counties may not be ready until sometime Tuesday. Here is a link to the official vote counting page in English, at the Norwegian Directorate of Elections.
The gears and levers: Stortinget sits for four years and cannot be dissolved. Out of the 169 Representatives, 150 are elected from party lists in 19 electoral districts (corresponding to our counties) based on a modified proportional representation system in which the number of votes are divided by 1.4, 3, 5, 7 and so forth. This method is known as St Laguë’s in Europe and Webster’s in the US. In addition, 19 so-called “leveling seats” (or “adjustment seats”) are elected based on what the parties would have gotten if the whole country was one electoral district. Only the parties that win over 4% nationwide can get leveling seats, but one can still win district seats regardless. As the 19 leveling seats consist of one Representative per county, it often takes a couple of days before it is known who gets in (the calculations are quite complex), but the number per party should be known Monday (possibly Tuesday, due to the cybersecurity issue) and hence which side gets a majority in Stortinget.
With that, let’s take a look at who’s playing and what’s at stake!The current Government is known locally as the blue-blue coalition, while the previous one was called the red-green coalition (like pretty much every country other than the US, we label our right-wing parties blue and left-wing parties red). It consists of Høyre (Conservatives) and Fremskrittspartiet (Progress Party) with parliamentary support from Venstre (Liberals) and Kristelig Folkeparti (Christian Democrats). The 2013 elections actually resulted in the largest parliamentary majority for a block since WW2 (96/169), but the results have been meager.
This has been the first time Progress was included in a Government and by and large the experience has turned out to be sobering for this party, which still has a strain of libertarian or classical liberal thought, but which seemed to be largely controlled by what could best be described as petro-populists at the last election in 2013. The party chair, Siv Jensen (b.1969) has held the Treasury for the past four years and Progress have slowly come to realize that even in a country where the most popular solution to a problem for the past 20 years is to throw money at it, the coffers are not bottomless.
Progress has had a slight uptick in the polls as of late, largely due to controversy over immigration, and may match the 16% they got in 2013. The party almost fell prey to its own success in curbing the stream of asylum applicants, which is now lower than it’s been since the early 90s. Normally, that’s a bad sign for Progress, since, ironically they need a certain degree of immigration for the topic to stay hot. But the new Secretary for Immigration and Integration, Sylvi Listhaug (b.1977) has started fronting a (very) soft form of Trumpism in that she has been very vocal against “alien cultures” and she has confronted Islamist preachers and called them out for being extremists. The other parties had a fit when she went to Sweden in late August to look at some of the worst areas of Stockholm, but in my view it was excellent trolling of them and the media, and just like with Trump, she has the benefit of having complete morons for enemies. Listhaug is walking a difficult line, but in my view she has largely succeeded in making the case that islamophilia is as bad as islamophobia. She’s at least managed to make the last few weeks of the campaign about her and immigration, and that’s usually good for Progress. Listhaug is widely considered the front runner to take over Progress once Jensen retires.
The Conservatives have a fairly well liked and inoffensive Prime Minister in Erna Solberg (b.1961) who has turned out to be fairly adapt at (and content with) simply administering the country for four years, having neither the brains nor the guts to do anything remotely visionary. Several small reforms have been started, but most have either been badly botched in the rollout, or been watered down by Stortinget; in particular, a reform involving the redrawing and restructuring of the regions and municipalities and a reform of the police were both botched. Traditionally, the Conservatives have had the ungrateful task of telling voters that they can’t have their cake and eat it too, but their reputation for being a fiscally responsible party has taken a hit, as Norway is now using more money as a percentage of GDP than ever before. Sadly, any real reform of our bloated welfare system is probably politically impossible so long as we can just throw oil money at the problems. The Conservatives haven’t even had the guts to grab some low-hanging fruit, such as a reduction of the insane benefits system.
I’ll provide two examples of our current largesse: If you get sick you’ll receive 100% of your pay for up to a year and it is all too easy to fake some unspecified back pain or the likes. Just adopting the same system neighboring Sweden has – 80% pay – would save us billions, but the government actually said in August that they wouldn’t touch the system in the next four years if they were allowed to continue. The only party to have put in their manifesto that they want a reform is actually the Liberals.
Next; if a couple is expecting, they can get no less than 49 weeks of parental leave at full pay, courtesy of the taxpayers (even longer if they take a pay cut). The only discussion about this issue is how much of that time should be reserved for the father, and whether that time should be compulsory; that is the extent to which most parties basically agree on everything over here.
The Liberals is Norway’s oldest party, formed at the time of the great political upheaval of 1884, when parliamentarism was adopted as the custom and for much of the late 19th and early 20th century, they were also the largest party. Today they’re quite tiny and as usual, are struggling to get over 4%. They might be saved by soft Conservatives voting tactically; this has saved their bacon in several previous elections. If they do drop under 4%, the likelihood of four more years for Solberg decreases significantly. The joke here in Norway is that where two liberals are gathered, there’s at least three different opinions on any given issue, and I know from personal experience how hard it can be to nail down this party to an agreement. Their leader, Trine Skei Grande (b.1969), is (again, from personal experience) a very difficult person to work with and intensely disliked by many. She’s basically treading water and someone else will surely become leader soon after the election; the most likely choice is Abid Raja (b.1975), a second generation immigrant from Pakistan, who would be the country’s first non-Norwegian leader of a political party.
The Christian Democrats have, for the past fifteen years or so, been leaking their more conservative voters to Progress (Muslim immigration and the role of Norwegian values + support for Israel) and their more liberal ones to other parties. Still, they’ve managed to claw out a small niche of 5-7% of the voters. There’s less and less Christianity left in the party, as Norway is among the world’s most secular and liberal societies, so they’re basically reduced to a bunch of nitwits incapable of saying no to a single public expense. They should, in my view, have been kicked out of the coalition by the other three, since they are, for all intents and purposes, a social democratic party (one political pundit over here calls them “socialists with sacraments”). Their leader is Knut Arild Hareide (b.1972). They’ve been almost invisible in this election.
The Liberals and the Christian Democrats have a formal agreement with the Cabinet parties, although strictly speaking the votes of only one of them is needed for a majority in the current Stortinget. This agreement has turned out be something of a political straitjacket for the Government in my opinion; I believe they could have passed a lot more legislation had they played their two “allies” out against one another on a case by case basis, or at least chosen to play with just the Liberals. Instead they’re finding solutions that basically appeal to no one and offends no one. There have been lots of murmur especially within the Liberal Party over their support for the Government, but as of yet the two parties’ fear of the Labor Party, who have a tradition of steamrolling their partners, is greater than their distaste for cooperating with the Progress Party.
The main alternative is the return of the previous eight-year coalition, consisting of Arbeiderpartiet (Labor), Senterpartiet (Center) and Sosialistisk Venstreparti (Socialists).
Labor is now lead by the former Secretary of State, Jonas Gahr Støre (b.1960), who in my view has dragged the party to the left or at best given it an incoherent electoral strategy. Støre’s background is in the diplomatic corps (he was educated in France) and he’s a far cry from the former Labor PM Jens Stoltenberg (b.1959), who is currently the Secretary General of NATO. Stoltenberg had a solid background in economics, a subject Støre doesn’t seem to understand at all. He has been roundly ridiculed for claiming both that the current government is using too much oil money (true), but also that they’re spending too little. Unlike previous elections, where one could reasonably trust Labor to at least be semi-competent administrators, this year all bets are off. Støre has gone a long way towards allowing for more 3rd world immigration, which would be a ticking bomb under our national finances, and I know a lot of serious-minded people who are very skeptical of where he’s leading the party. In addition, people are finally catching on to what a slippery eel he is and the fact that he will say and do just about anything to become Prime Minister. The party’s dropped precipitously in the polls during this campaign, from the mid-30s to the high 20s (a couple last week even had the Conservatives ahead or even), and Støre looks to be leading Labor to one of its worst electoral showings ever. If he loses this election, he will likely be replaced, but there’s no evident alternatives waiting in the wings; or rather there are several, but no one comes without significant drawbacks in my opinion.
Center, which used to be called Farmers Party until 1959, are as always only interested in how much money they can milk (see what I did there) for their core voters in the rural areas. They wish to increase the transfer of money to what is already one of the world’s most heavily subsidized, protected and ineffective agricultural sectors, and are generally skeptical of everything that smacks of modernization. On economic policy I’d place them to the left of Labor and on values at least as far right as the Conservatives. They gained a lot in the early polls, partially due to an unpopular reform instituted by the blue-blues, where the number of counties were reduced starting in 2020, and partially due to a poorly handled incident where the Secretary of Environment refused to increase the quota on the number of wolves to be hunted. They’ve since fallen somewhat, but for a while there, the talk amongst pundits was actually that their chairman, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum (b.1978) could become the new PM in a red-green government. (Side note: If the current Government hadn’t tied themselves so thoroughly to the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, they could have gotten Center’s support for a much stricter line on immigration.)
The Socialists have not fared much better outside Government than they did the eight years they were in it. They’ve had that most cruel of fates bestowed upon them, in that voters seem to have caught on to what their policies would actually entail and are fleeing as a consequence. They’ve not made things any better for themselves by keeping Audun Lysbakken (b.1977) as their chairman after their near eradication in 2013, when they received 4.1% and almost missed the 4% deadline for leveling seats. They’ve had an uptick in the last few weeks of the campaign, as Labor has started to bleed support left and right, and even though their new voters are disgruntled Labor voters, not enthusiastic socialists, they may yet come out looking like winners.
Lysbakken is an unabashed Marxist and indeed there have been several rumblings among former and current party members about the increasing similarities between the Socialists and the Communists in Rødt (Red; an unholy alliance of commies, hippies and ne’er do wells). As usual, Red has a fair chance of taking a direct mandate in Oslo, in which case their leader, Bjørnar Moxnes (b.1981) will become a Representative. In a couple of polls in August they were actually above 4% nationwide, in which case God help us all.
As in the last election, the wild card is Miljøpartiet (Greens), led by the party’s only MP, Rasmus Hansson (b.1954), a man so insufferably arrogant he has the gall to lecture others about the evils of owning a car, while driving an SUV himself. Ostensibly a party “outside the left-right spectrum”, they have nonetheless allied themselves with the left in every single county council and municipal council where they’ve held seats since the local elections in 2015. PM Solberg made it very clear in the last debate yesterday that she would rather resign than enter into negotiations with them. The Greens have also had a poor two years as members of the governing coalition in Oslo, with several gaffes and rookie mistakes and some utopian proposals that have been roundly ridiculed by most people. Make no mistake, a frightening share of these people are eco-fascist nutcases who would like to see the gradual (or not so gradual) dismantling of western civilization (a friend of mine has dubbed them “Khmer Green”). On the national level, the Greens have demanded that Norway stop pumping up oil, which makes them unpalatable for Labor. Still, if they manage to get above 4%, we might get a rehash of Oslo; I don’t trust Støre at all on this. On the bright side, Center might veto their inclusion in a four-party coalition; for example, I would LOVE to hear the two parties argue about wolf hunting…
The next Stortinget could be very chaotic indeed, as during the last month or so, Red, Green, Socialists, Liberals and Christian Democrats have all seen numbers below the 4% cutoff for leveling seats. As with the US election of 2016, where it all came down to a comparatively few thousand votes in three states, this could come down to whether a party makes the cutoff; the difference between 3.9 and 4.0 for any given party could decide the fate of the Solberg government. To top it off, there’s a local list in one of the west coast counties with a small chance of getting one candidate elected, their top man said his support will go to whoever guarantees that the local hospital (which is scheduled for closure) stays open.
Solberg made it clear in the final debate yesterday that if the four (ostensibly) center-right parties lose their majority, she will resign. Støre, for his part, said this week that he would file a motion of no confidence if there’s a red-green majority in Parliament, even if that included the Reds and the Greens, and also said yesterday that if necessary he would form a minority cabinet together with Center and the Socialists. A new red-green cabinet would probably be formed sometime in October, after negotiations about a political platform.
Here are the averages of the latest polls as of Friday evening (I have included some late polls that may not be on the linked Wikipedia page). 2013 results in parenthesis:
Conservatives: 24.1 (26.8)
Progress: 14.8 (16.3)
Liberals: 4.1 (5.2)
Chr. Dems: 4.6 (5.6)
Center: 9.9 (5.5)
Labor: 26.8 (30.8)
Socialists: 6.3 (4.1)
Greens: 4.3 (2.8)
Red: 3.5 (1.1)
Others: 1.5 (1.8)