Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg clinches second term in power, but victory bittersweet

Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg leaves a polling booth as she votes at a polling station during general election in Bergen, Norway on Sept 11, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

OSLO (AFP) - After clinching a narrow victory in Norway's legislative elections, Prime Minister Erna Solberg embarks on a historic but fragile second mandate, with a weaker majority and less conciliatory allies.

A popular and experienced 56-year-old politician, Ms Solberg is the first Conservative in oil-rich Norway to win a second straight mandate in more than 30 years.

In Monday's (Sept 11) nail-biting election, her coalition - made up of the Conservatives and the mildly populist anti-immigration Progress Party - and two smaller centre-right allies took home a thin majority of 89 of the 169 seats in Parliament.

"We received a new mandate for four more years because we delivered results, we delivered what we promised," Ms Solberg told cheering supporters late on Monday as she claimed victory.

The Conservatives campaigned on a vow to pursue further tax cuts.

The opposition, led by Labour leader Jonas Gahr Store, wanted to raise taxes, especially for the richest, to reduce inequalities in society and beef up the Norwegians' cherished welfare state.

Credited with successfully steering the country - Western Europe's biggest crude producer - through the oil industry slump and the migrant crisis, Ms Solberg now looks set to have her work cut out for her, simple math shows.

With 95 per cent of votes counted on Tuesday, the right-wing bloc was shown losing seven seats in the new Parliament. It will need to stand more united than ever to govern - and that is easier said than done.

Until now, Ms Solberg's coalition had held a minority in Parliament and needed the support of only one of the two smaller centre-right parties - the Christian Democrats or the Liberals - to pass legislation.

But now Ms Solberg needs the support of both parties to do that, and they have both expressed growing dissatisfaction with the populists on issues such as the climate and immigration.

Contrary to four years ago, the Christian Democrats have already ruled out any formal alliance with a coalition that includes the Progress Party - a very likely member of Ms Solberg's government.

"We can't provide any guarantee for the next four years," the head of the Christian Democrats, Mr Knut Arild Hareide, warned.

Without a formal cooperation agreement with the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, Ms Solberg will have to engage in tricky negotiations on each issue to obtain the support of the centre-right, which has refused to give her a blank cheque.

Concessions and compromises will be necessary, leading tabloid Dagbladet wrote under the headline for Tuesday's frontpage story, "Bittersweet Victory".

As soon as the election results were in late on Monday, Ms Solberg invited the right-wing parties "to talks where we will clarify how to continue our cooperation." "I'm sure that we will find good solutions for the four parties during the next four years," she said.

But before the shape of the next government had even taken form, questions were already being raised about its chances of survival.

"It's not sure that they will last four years," warned Mr Audun Lysbakken, head of the Socialist Left party, one of the few winners in the election even though it remained in the opposition.

Professor Knut Heidar, who teaches political science at the University of Oslo, also said it was "unlikely the government would survive four years".

"I think the immigration issue, or maybe the urban-rural relations, will push the Christian Democrats to topple it," he said.

Mr Kare Willoch, the only other Conservative prime minister to win a second straight mandate in the post-war period, never made it to the end of his second term.

His government lost a vote of no-confidence in 1986, just over a year after his re-election.

Ultimately, it was not so much the right that won Monday's election - all right-wing parties lost seats in parliament - but rather the Left that lost.

While Labour remains the biggest party in the country, as it has been since the 1920s, it was seen losing six seats in Parliament.

"This is a big disappointment for Labour," Mr Store told his supporters late Monday, refusing nonetheless to give up the party leadership.

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