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Norway’s Labour party leader was expected on Tuesday to kick off negotiations to form a coalition government after his party succeeded in ending eight years of conservative rule in a campaign focused on the country’s oil industry and climate change.
Preliminary results showed that Labour, together with their left-leaning allies in the Socialist Left and the eurosceptic Center Party, won 100 seats in the 169-seat Stortinget assembly. This victory will make the whole Nordic region ruled by left-leaning parties.
Outgoing PM Erna Solberg’s Conservative party suffered a heavy defeat, losing 9 seats and securing only 37, with the coalition partner, the Progress Party, also losing MPs.
The Center Party made the largest gains in the election by grabbing nearly 14 per cent of the votes — a 3.6 percentage point hike.
Jonas Gahr Stoere, the Labour leader, announced he would start talks with the Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, a farmer-turned-politician, to join his future government in the country, which is not an EU member.
“We will now give Norway a new government and a new course,” Gahr Stoere said on election night before cheering party members who chanted “Stoere” and clapped. He added that he would invite the parties “that want a new change” for talks in the coming days.
Erna Solberg said she would step down after eight years in power as soon as a new government is ready, with a cabinet headed by Stoere potentially taking office in mid-October.
Gahr Stoere must address voters’ concerns over global warming and a widening wealth gap while ensuring any transition away from oil production - and the jobs it creates - is gradual.
Climate change has dominated the election debate as Gahr Stoere focused on promoting his party’s support for a new climate approach. The new PM’s industrial policies would include boosting green industries such as wind power, “blue hydrogen” that uses natural gas to produce an alternative fuel, and carbon capture and storage.
The campaign has also focused on the North Sea oil and gas, which made Norway one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The recent UN climate change report added further impetus to a debate over the industry’s future, which counts for over 40 per cent of Norway’s exports and directly employs more than 5 per cent of the workforce.
The debate was centred on exploration of the country’s untapped oil and gas reserves in the Barents Sea, above the Arctic Circle, which are seen as a redline by environmentalists who could play the role of kingmaker in the upcoming government.
In particular, Stoere will face a challenge trying to convince his coalition partners to compromise on where to let oil companies explore for hydrocarbon. He must also reach a consensus within the centre-left camp on cutting his country’s emissions in line with the Paris Accord.
“The likely compromise has to do with restricting exploration, and the less explored and matured areas are easier to stop exploration in,” Baard Lahn, a researcher at Oslo-based climate think-tank CICERO, told Reuters.
“Also the industry has indicated they are less interested in those areas at the moment. That’s a possible outcome, but exactly what that will look like, there are many possibilities,” he added.
Climate activists and environmentalist political parties had their support bolstered by ordinary Norwegians, who are considered one of the most climate-conscious consumers in the world. For example, official data in Norway shows that most car buyers are now switching to electronic vehicles.
Any post-election horse trading is likely to be fraught for the Labour Party and Gahr Stoere. The Socialist Left will not offer its support lightly, and the Center Party is also demanding a more aggressive approach toward shifting to renewable energy.
Gahr Stoere is a former civil servant and a businessman who was elected to the Stortinget in 2009. He served as foreign minister between 2005 and 2013 in the previous Labour government under Jens Stoltenberg before taking over the party’s leadership when Stoltenberg became Nato’s secretary general.
Nearly 3.9 million Norwegians were eligible to vote and more than 1.6 million of them voted in advance, according to Norway’s election commission. Turnout was 76.3 per cent, down from more than 78 per cent in this nation of 5.3 million voted.
Additional reporting by agencies