Norway's Conservative-led govt retains power in close election

OSLO • Norway's tax-cutting Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg yesterday declared victory after a parliamentary election, narrowly defeating a Labour-led opposition with her promises of steady management of the oil-dependent economy.

The win is historic for Ms Solberg, whose supporters compare her firm management style to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, because no Conservative-led government has retained power in an election in Norway since 1985.

"It looks like a clear victory," a beaming Ms Solberg told cheering supporters early yesterday, following Monday's voting.

"Our solutions have worked. We have created jobs." But she warned: "We have some challenges ahead... Oil revenues are going to be lower."

The ruling minority coalition of her Conservatives and the populist Progress Party, together with two small centre-right allies, was set to win a slim majority with 89 seats in the 169-seat Parliament, according to an official projection with 95 per cent of the votes counted.

"It's a big disappointment," Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere said, conceding defeat for his party that has been a dominant force in Norwegian politics for a century.

Ms Solberg, 56, plans more tax cuts to stimulate growth for Europe's top oil and gas producer.

Mr Stoere had argued for tax increases to improve public services such as education and healthcare for Norway's five million citizens.

The oil industry could be affected by the vote, because the coalition's two centre-right parties are green-minded.

One of the two parties, the Liberals, wants strict limits on oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters.

And the head of the other party, the Christian Democrats, warned he would not automatically back every government decision.

Ms Solberg has won credit for an upturn in the economy with a no-nonsense style of management. The nation's economy also has the cushion of a sovereign wealth fund worth almost US$1 trillion (S$1.35 trillion), the world's biggest, built on income from offshore oil and gas.

The fund has wanted to invest in unlisted infrastructure to boost its return on investment. Finance Minister Siv Jensen has twice said no to the request over the past two years, citing political risk. That stance is unlikely to change now that the government has been re-elected.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'Norway's Conservative-led govt retains power in close election'. Print Edition | Subscribe