You likely have missed it, but Norway just had its general election this past Monday. The Conservative Party-led right wing coalition just edged out the Labour Party-led centre left opposition, capturing 88 out of 169 seats. The magical number of seats needed is 85 to gain control of Norway’s parliament, the Storting.
I’d like to raise a few points that I found fascinating. All political parties of the right-wing coalition reduced their share of vote. Less people voted for Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party and for the far-right Progress Party, 1.8 and 1.2 percent less, respectively, amounting to 5 seats less between the two parties. All parties that would likely be part of a left-ish coalition gained in vote share, except notably the long-dominant Labour Party, which saw 3.5 percent fewer votes, equating to 6 fewer seats. The agrarian Centre Party gained an impressive 4.8 percent, nearly doubling its seats to 19; the far-left Red Party and Socialist Party gained 1.3 and 1.9 percent, respectively. This gave the Red Party its first ever MP and the Socialists increased its seat count by just over 50 percent to 11. The Greens vote share increased by 0.4 percent with its lone MP re-elected. Data nerds: you can find all the voter data from the Norwegian state broadcaster’s (NRK) website.
What does this shift in vote mean? It terms of governing, there is likely not much difference. The ruling coalition still needs to be finalized but will likely remain the same as before the election – consisting of the Conservatives, the Progress Party, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals. The opposition voices, however, will be different. The Centre Party, which is well known for its anti-EU economic protectionist views and less enthusiastic about oil and gas development than Labour and the Conservative-led coalition, is emboldened. The toehold gained the Red and Green Parties in the Storting is also notable. As we have seen recently in Canada, and in this past parliamentary session in Norway, even a single seat can give a party a significant platform to share their views. The Socialist Party, which has been one of the most radical environmental champions in Norwegian politics, has seen a resurgence to the size they were in the Red-Green minority government of Jens Stoltenberg. If parties from the ruling coalition or the oft-ruling Labour are considered mainstream, all non-ruling, non-mainstream parties gained seats.
In this election, Norway’s Lofoten Islands loomed large. As Norway runs out of low cost areas to drill, there is increasing pressure to open up previously untapped oil and gas reservoirs around these islands, which happen to be the heart and soul of the nation’s fishing industry. Conservatives, Progress Party, and Christian Democrats all support drilling in the Lofoten region. In fact, the only member of the Conservative-led coalition that doesn’t support drilling is the Liberal Party, who lost the least amount of seats (just one). All the smaller opposition parties—the Centre Party, the Socialists, the Greens and the Red Party all do not support oil and gas development in the Lofoten. The Labour Party, which is the largest single party in Parliament but not part of the ruling coalition, has been pushed by its youth wing, non-energy labour unions, and environmental and church groups on the Lofoten debate. In response, the Labour Party has attempted to reach a compromise over development in the region that would work for everyone. Although judging from the election results, it appears that many of their voters shifted to parties taking a stronger stance against oil and gas industry expansion in the region.
Of note, this past summer a coalition of Norwegian and international environmental and civil society organizations signed The Lofoten Declaration, which calls upon the Norwegian government and other wealthy fossil fuel producers to commence a managed decline of the oil and gas industry. Especially for those who have benefited from oil and gas production, a managed decline may seem like a dystopic future. Yet, with a few noteworthy exceptions, civil society organizations are rarely on the wrong side of history. It is more a matter of timing.
To be certain, there were other issues at play in this Norwegian election besides climate and energy policy and parties. Trade with the EU and immigration policy were also major concerns for many voters. Reading the parliamentary tea leaves reveals that the anti-immigration sentiment was less important than last election, that protecting domestic agriculture is crucial, and that protecting certain areas of Norway’s coast from oil and gas development is important to growing numbers of Norwegians.
Nevertheless, the opposition remain in opposition. The dominant Labour, Conservative and Progress parties would do well to find out why they bled votes and try a different approach next election.