Norway’s centre-left slips, minority rule likely

Norway’s centre-left coalition looks set to lose its majority in a parliamentary election on Sept. 14, new opinion polls suggest, raising the prospect of minority rule by either the centre-left or centre-right.

The latest Respons survey, published by the daily Aftenposten on Friday, had the Labour-led government winning 81 seats in the 169-member parliament, confirming a trend seen in other recent surveys.

“It will be a dramatic autumn in parliament if the red-green majority is lost in the election,” political commentator Arne Strand wrote in the left-leaning daily Dagsavisen. He said passing the 2010 budget could prove tough in a hung parliament.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labour party has so far refused to say what it would do if its coalition with the Socialist Left and Centre Party lost its majority.

Polls show Labour will remain parliament’s biggest party, so it could try ruling alone in a minority administration. This would give it more room to manoeuvre on issues such as opening up more Arctic areas for oil and gas drilling. [ID:nLQ235203]

Labour could also step down to give the fractured opposition a chance to govern, also probably in a minority coalition.

Minority rule is common in Norway, where the constitution prevents early parliamentary elections. The set-up often puts small centrist parties in the role of kingmaker.

The main opposition group, the anti-immigrant Progress Party, have a following on the political right but have largely failed to connect with middle-of-the-road voters and no longer look like threatening Labour as Norway’s most popular party.

Some polls show the Conservatives, a moderate centre-right group and potential Progress ally, gaining strength and possibly winning enough support to mount their own bid to form a minority cabinet, with the help of two small centrist allies.

“It’s clear that a better balance on the centre-right makes it easier to form a government,” said Conservative leader Erna Solberg, tipped for prime minister in a potential cabinet with centrist groups, the Liberals and the Christian People’s Party.

Progress still hopes to head a own minority cabinet with the Conservatives, and is hostile towards any potential centre-right cabinet that excludes it.

The centre-left government has steered Norway through the global downturn by dipping into its offshore oil fund to stimulate domestic demand and prop up the banking system.

But it has failed to deliver on some of its promises to improve the welfare state. Norway is the world’s No. 5 oil exporter and a leading supplier of natural gas.

The 2010 budget is again likely to show a larger-than-usual amount of oil revenues funding state expenditure, instead of being saved in an offshore wealth fund for future generations.

Progress seeks a vast public works programme funded by oil revenues, while the Conservatives are offering modest tax cuts while maintaining a tight grip on oil spending.

Thompson Reuters


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