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In Norway’s left turn, Greens fail to break through

Norwegian parliamentary elections saw the political left take in the most votes, but perhaps the biggest surprise was the failure of the Greens to pick up more votes in an election focused on climate change and the future of the Scandinavian country's oil riches.

(CN) — In an election fought over the issues of climate change and social inequality, Norwegian voters handed a clear victory to the political left in parliamentary elections, ending eight years of conservative leadership.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the failure of Norway's Green Party to break through and get a chance at becoming part of a ruling coalition. It appears its hardcore anti-drilling stance in a country that owes its incredible wealth to oil and gas extraction backfired.

The election gave Norway's center-left Labor Party the win as it took in about 26.4% of the votes, giving it 48 seats in the 169-seat parliament in Oslo, the Storting. It will likely form a coalition with other left parties to govern.

Norway is a nation of 5.3 million people that has become extremely wealthy ever since it began exploiting oil and gas reserves in the 1970s in the North Sea. But its oil wealth is now a source of deep unease as more Norwegians see climate change as an existential threat.

The Scandinavian country is not a member of the European Union but it is part of the EU's economic zone, which means it largely plays by the same trade and environmental rules as EU countries.

Although Labor won the election, the results reflect a longer-term trend for the party: Like other traditional center-left social democratic parties in Europe, its support is waning as working-class voters shift toward right-wing parties and it is left with mostly middle-class professionals. Younger voters, meanwhile, often back smaller parties, typically ones that advocate stronger stances on fighting inequality and climate change.

Labor was once Norway's dominant force. Between 1945 and 2013, it ran the government more than a dozen times and often it did so without the need for coalition partners. This past of Labor governance is credited with making Norway a model of Nordic social equality and welfare.

But Labor's support has eroded. In 2001, it got less than 30% of the vote for the first time. In the last parliamentary elections in 2017, Labor actually fared better than it did this election by picking up 27.4% of the vote.

To govern, then, Labor will likely form a coalition with two other parties – the left-wing Socialist Left and the Center Party, an agrarian party. The Socialist Left picked up 28 seats and the Center Party 13. Together, they hold 89 seats, enough for a majority.

By the time polls closed late Monday, Labor leader Jonas Gahr Stoere, a 61-year-old millionaire and a scion of a wealthy Norwegian family, claimed victory and was set to become the next prime minister.

Stoere has a long political history in Norway and served as foreign minister under the previous Labor-led government of Jens Stoltenberg, the current NATO secretary-general. Stoltenberg's government took a neoliberal approach to government and privatized sections of Norway's economy.

Stoere is viewed as belonging to the conservative pro-free market side of the Labor Party, but in this election he made social inequality his chief talking point. He promised to raise taxes on the wealthy and help those less well off.

“Norway has sent a clear signal: the election shows that the Norwegian people want a fairer society,” he said after the results came in.

He also promised to rein in oil and gas drilling and ensure Norway meets its commitments to reduce carbon emissions as stipulated by the Paris Agreement. But he sought a middle ground on the contentious issue of what to do with Norway's oil and gas reserves.

About 200,000 Norwegians owe their jobs to the industry and about 40% of its exports are from oil and gas. Norway has built up the world's largest sovereign wealth fund – it's worth about $1.2 trillion – by investing its oil and gas revenues. Its industry is also moving into untapped reserves in the Arctic, a move hotly contested by environmental activists and politicians.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from the election was the failure of Green Party to break past the important 4% mark. Under Norway's election system, 19 multi-regional seats are distributed to any party that gets more than 4% of votes.

Going into the elections, the Greens were touted as contenders to form a government. The party did very well in local elections in 2019 and its fortunes seemed to be on the rise as Norwegian media focused on climate change as a central issue in the election.

The Green Party advocated shutting down Norway's oil production by 2035. But this position seems to have backfired; also, other parties on the left adopted strong green platforms. The Greens picked up only three seats and 3.8% of the vote. It won 7.6% of votes in local elections two years ago.

Many Norwegians may feel that they are green enough as it is. Thanks to government subsidies, Norwegians now buy more electric cars than vehicles with combustion engines. Additionally, its electrical grid is mostly run by hydropower.

Norwegians may have been persuaded by arguments that the world is better off to get oil and gas from Norway's oil sector, which is committed to reducing carbon emissions, than from nations with fewer environmental standards.

Stoere said he wants Norway to gradually shift away from oil and gas production.

“I believe that calling time on our oil and gas industry is the wrong industrial policy and the wrong climate policy,” he said after casting his ballot.

The Labor victory ends the leadership of conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow Cain Burdeau on Twitter

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