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September 9, 2013 12:20 pm
Norwegians went to the polls on Monday in an election in which voters in the oil-rich Nordic country look likely to eject the centre-left government after eight years in power.
Erna Solberg, leader of the centre-right Conservatives, cast her vote in the western city of Bergen and is expected to become prime minister.
Polling stations close at 21.00 local time on Monday. An average of the latest polls makes the governing Labour party the winner but with the Conservatives close behind. Overall, the four centre-right parties are forecast to gain 98 seats against 71 for the four-party centre-left; 85 is needed for a majority in Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament.
A centre-right government would bring to power the Progress party, a rightwing populist group known for its anti-immigration views and for having killer Anders Behring Breivik as one of its former members.
The vote looks set to confirm the exit of Jens Stoltenberg as prime minister as the country continues to move slowly to the right.
The elections have been dominated by a debate over schools, healthcare and how to spend Norway’s vast oil wealth. The Conservatives and particularly Progress party would like to spend more of the money on infrastructure and education but argue the government has been using it in the general budget, increasing Norway’s dependence on oil and weakening other industries.
Jan Tore Sanner, deputy leader of the Conservatives, told the Financial Times before the vote that a decade ago all parties “agreed to spend it on education, research and infrastructure and tax cuts. If we are just pushing a lot of money into the economy we will increase the costs. That is what we have seen in the past four or five years.”
The Conservatives also want to debate a possible break-up of the $750bn oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. And they plan to part-privatise many state-owned companies including Statoil, Telenor and Yara.
If Ms Solberg becomes prime minister of a centre-right government, Siv Jensen – the leader of the Progress party – is expected to become finance minister, meaning that arguably the four most important jobs in Norway would be held by women at the same time.
Both Mr Sanner and Ms Solberg have said that the Conservatives would be “responsible” in government, suggesting they would not allow Ms Jensen to enact her campaign pledge to break Norway’s spending rule. That rule, introduced by Mr Stoltenberg, limits government use of the oil fund to just 4 per cent of its assets each year.
But some economists argue it should be even less, as the oil fund is almost 10- times larger than it was when the rule was agreed, leading to ever greater amounts being pumped into Norway’s economy.
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