Norway’s Parliamentary Election: A Narrow Victory For The Right

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On Monday, Norway had an election to the Storting, the Nordic nation’s sole parliamentary body. The centre-right coalition government led by Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader, Erna Solberg (pictured below), narrowly prevailed.

Like many countries, the politics of Norway is largely divided on left-right ideological lines, although it is not unknown for a party to change which ‘bloc’ they support. After the last election in 2013, the largest party was the centre-left Labour Party, but overall the right-wing bloc defeated the left-wing bloc. However, this is unsurprising, since the Labour Party has been the largest party after every election since 1927.

This is due to the right-wing bloc not having a single core party, but rather two – the centre-right Høyre (literally ‘Right’, but usually translated to Conservative) has been consistently one of these, while the more right-wing Progress Party has been the other since the late 1980s. It was these two parties in 2013 which formed a coalition government together, aided by support from smaller right-wing parties including the Christian Democratic Party.

This party is socially conservative, opposing same-sex marriage and abortion, but is generally left-of-centre on economic issues; consequently, it’s not considered unlikely that the Christian Democrats may one day join a coalition with the left.

The other minor party in the right-wing bloc is Venstre. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the name Venstre translates to ‘Left’. Venstre is the oldest party in Norway, having been founded in 1884 (a few months before Høyre). At that time, social democratic and socialist ideals were outside of the political mainstream, and so the liberal Venstre was considered as the main party of the left. This leads to the odd situation in which a party that is literally named ‘Left’ is in the right-wing bloc, while a party named the ‘Centre’ is more left-wing. Since the party is no longer considered left-wing, the party name is usually translated as ‘Liberal’ in English – it is liberal in regards to both economic and social issues.

The Labour Party forms the core of the left-wing bloc, while the second largest party in the left-wing bloc is the Centre Party. Known as the Farmers’ Party until 1959, this party has consistently been a strong supporter of decentralisation and economic protectionism, and has always been Eurosceptic. Until the early 2000s, it usually aligned itself with the right-wing bloc. The third party of the bloc is the more left-wing Socialist Left Party. Of the other notable left-wing parties, the centre-left Green Party held one seat before the election, while the Marxist ‘Red’ party was looking to enter the Storting for the first time.

Governments in Norway excluding the main left-wing and right-wing parties aren’t unheard of, as centrist governments formed of the Centre Party, Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party have existed previously (1972-1973; 1997-2000).

Storting elections occur every four years, and unusually, there’s no way of dissolving parliament early in order to have a snap election. Each constituency is coterminous with the 19 Counties of Norway – they have between 4 and 19 seats, with the number depending mostly on the population but also partly on the area, increasing the number of representatives for very rural areas. 150 of the 169 seats are allocated to the counties proportionally according to vote share, whilst the other 19 ‘levelling seats’ are distributed according to the nationwide vote share, and then allocated to the counties. To be entitled to levelling seats, parties are required to get more than 4% of the vote nationwide, an important determining factor in deciding which bloc, left or right-wing, commands a majority in the Storting. Whilst the seat distribution method is relatively complex, the voting method is no more complex than in the UK.

In this year’s election, the Conservative-Progress coalition retained a lead over the possible leftist coalition formations, in spite of losing 3 seats and 1 seat respectively. Labour’s seat share fell by 6 to 49, although the smaller left-bloc parties did well; the Centre Party ran an anti-establishment campaign against the ‘urban elite’ and went from 10 to 18 seats. The Socialist Left Party had a more moderate increase, with 11 seats up from 7.

Credit: Ned Williams

The Green Party, which had 2.8% of the vote in 2013, was looking to get 4% of the vote, in order to win levelling seats to increase their representation. In the end, they increased their vote share to only 3.2% and continued with just one seat. The Red Party was also aiming for the threshold and missed it, obtaining 2.4% support and a single seat in Oslo.

Overall, the right-wing bloc won with 89 seats, compared to 80 for the left-wing bloc – assuming no party will change allegiances. However, had the Christian Democrats and Liberals missed the 4% threshold, their levelling seats would have been distributed to the larger parties, and the divide would be (roughly) 87-82 in favour of the left-wing bloc.

Exit polling was unclear as to whether the Christian Democrats and the Liberals would reach the 4% threshold, as both parties suffered a clear drop in support from 2013. In the end, both cleared the 4% threshold, with the Liberal Party claiming 4.3% of the vote and the Christian Democratic Party finishing with 4.2%, giving both parties 8 seats each.

Ironically, a bad result for a party named ‘Left’ (Venstre) almost led to a victory for the left.

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