Conservative Party (H) now largest

Rising energy costs, inflation, war in Ukraine have their impact on Norway’s local elections

Photo: Heiko Junge
Former Prime Minister Erna Solberg celebrates the Conservative victory on the night of the elections.

Frazer Norwell
The Local

The dust has settled after local elections in Norway on Sept. 11, with a change of leadership expected in several cities and a historic set of results for the country’s two biggest parties. A historic set of election results was recorded for the Labor Party and the Conservative Party.

However, the results will have been met with polar opposite reactions by both parties.

For the first time in 99 years, the Conservative Party achieved the largest share of the vote in a set of elections, something the party hadn’t achieved in either local or national elections since 1924. Once all the votes had been counted, the Conservatives received 25.9% of the votes nationwide—a gain of 5.8% points compared to the last local elections in 2019.

The Labor Party only received 21.7% of the vote, a drop of 3.1% points. Among the night’s biggest losers was the Center Party, which managed 8.2% of the vote. This was a drop of 6.2 percentage points compared to four years ago.

The drop in support for the government parties shows how they’ve struggled for popularity since taking power in 2021.

While the government hasn’t had favorable conditions to deal with, contending with the war in Ukraine, soaring energy costs, and high inflation, it has had its own problems.

Several ministers have been embroiled in a series of high-profile conflict-of-interest cases in the weeks and months running up to the election. Two of the four ministers involved, former culture minister Anette Trettebergstuen and former higher education minister Ola Borten Moe, resigned as a result.

Change on the horizon for many cities

Several of Norway’s biggest cities will see a change in leadership, with right-wing blocs set to lead several city councils.

The Conservative Party in Oslo began talks with other parties on Sept. 12, after its mayoral candidate, Eirik Lae Solberg, declared an election victory.

In Bergen, current city council leader Rune Bakervik and his Labor-led government have stepped down. The Conservative Party will still have work to do to secure a majority. The party will need to sit at the negotiating table to garner support from other parties.

In Kristiansand, a Conservative-led bloc consisting of the Progress Party, Christian Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and Center Party was set to take over.

A right-wing majority looked most likely in Stavanger. The traditional Labor bastion of Lillestrøm, where the party has led local leadership for 100 years, could also see a Conservative Party takeover.

Labor was currently closest, with the party, the Socialist Left Party, Red Party, Green Party and Center Party combining for a majority of 34 seats. Playing the role of kingmaker is the Center Party, which had ruled out working with the Red Party.

Should the Center Party instead choose to support a right-wing bloc, then the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Pensioners Party, the Industry and Business Party, and the Progress Party would be able to secure a majority if all decided to work together with the Center Party.

Transport project chaos in Bergen 

In the run-up to the election in Bergen, the Conservative Party candidate for city council leadership, Christine Meyer, said that the future of a controversial extension to Bergen’s light rail service was settled. She may, however, need to take back that promise before taking the reigns.

On the morning after the election, the right-wing bloc in Bergen was still three seats short of a majority. Some of the parties she may have to work with in Bergen are opposed to the extension of the Bybanen (Bergen Light Rail) service.

The service is planned to run along the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen, the historic wharf. Many oppose the project. The future of the project has been a source of contention for over a decade in the city on Norway’s west coast.

In the spring, the project’s future looked to have been settled after the council decided to press on with it. However, several smaller parties have managed to gain seats with the pledge of halting the transport project.

Election results put PM under pressure

Norway’s prime minister has come under pressure from several quarters because of the Labor Party’s poor showing in the elections.

Former minister and deputy Labor Party leader Thorbjørn Bertsen has said that the prime minister should ditch the support of the Center Party and shift more toward the left. The current government is already a minority one, which relies on the support of the Socialist Left Party to push through budgets and other key policies.

The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) has also put pressure on the prime minister by saying that the Labor Party must do better.

“There is no doubt that we are disappointed today. We must do better than this, and we must win elections in the future. This election has been an uphill battle from start to finish,” LO leader Peggy Hessen Følsvik told Norwegian newswire NTB.

She added that the confederation also needed to mobilize more voters to support the Labor Party.

The party has plummeted in the polls during Støre’s time as leader. In the 2015 local elections, the party received 33% of the total vote—significantly more than the 21.7% it received on election day.

The prime minister has said the party’s ambition is to regain its position as the country’s largest party when measured by percentage of votes.

“I had hoped that we would come higher and that we would have retained our position as the country’s largest party. And I would say that it is our ambition to come back as soon as we can. A few months ago, the Conservative Party was twice as big as the Labor Party. Now it’s like 3%-4% (difference). And that tells me that it is entirely possible to get back into that position,” Støre said to NTB.

Norwegian local election results at a glance:

Conservative Party (H): 25.9% (+5.8)

Labor Party (AP): 21.7% (-3.1)

Progress Party (FRP): 11.4% (+3.1)

Center Party (SP): 8.2% (-6.2)

Socialist Left Party (SV): 6.8% (+0.7)

Liberal Party (V): 5% (+1.1)

Greens (MDG): 4.1% (-2.7)

Christian Democrats (KRF): 4% (0)

Red Party (R): 3.5% (-0.3)

Others: 9.5% (+1.5)

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Frazer Norwell

Frazer Norwell is a multimedia journalist for the Norwegian edition of The Local (thelocal.no), Europe’s largest independent English-languages online news network, providing the latest news, essential insights, and practical guides to life in Norway.