Labour leader poised to become Norway’s new prime minister

Jonas Gahr Stoere is opening coalition talks with left-leaning allies after defeating the incumbent Conservatives.

Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere
Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere

Norway’s Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere is to start coalition talks after the centre-left party beat the incumbent Conservatives in a general election.

With all votes now counted, the Labour Party and its two left-leaning allies – the Socialist Left and the eurosceptic Centre Party – grabbed 100 seats in the 169-seat Stortinget assembly while the current government received 68.

The last seat is going to a northern Norway health-focused protest party, Pasientfokus.

Left-leaning party leaders
Audun Lysbakken of Socialist Left Party, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum of the Centre Party and Jonas Gahr Stoere (NTB/AP)

The outgoing assembly was 88-81 in favour of the centre-right led by prime minister Erna Solberg, who was ousted after two four-year terms in the job. Her party also suffered a huge loss, totalling nine seats.

Monday’s result means that all five Nordic countries now have left-leaning governments.

Mr Gahr Stoere said he would start talks with Norway’s third largest group, the Centre Party, and its leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum.

That party made the largest gain and grabbed nine seats. Mr Gahr Stoere, who is poised to become prime minister, also will meet the media later while Ms Solberg is scheduling a news conference to talk about the election outcome.

The campaign had focused on the North Sea oil and gas that has helped make Norway one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

But fears about climate change have put the future of the industry in doubt. The country’s biggest industry is responsible for more than 40% of exports, and directly employs more than 5% of the workforce.

On the other hand, Norwegians are among the most climate-conscious consumers in the world, with most new car purchases now being electric.

Most of Norway’s oil and gas still comes from mature areas in the North Sea, but most of the country’s untapped reserves are in the Barents Sea, above the Arctic Circle.

Erna Solberg
Erna Solberg’s time as prime minister is up (NTB/AP)

That is a red line for environmentalists, who could play a crucial role in securing a majority government.

Any post-election horse trading is likely to be fraught for the Labour Party – Norway’s largest party – and Mr Gahr Stoere.

The Socialist Left will not offer its support lightly and the Centre Party is also demanding a more aggressive approach when it comes to shifting towards renewable energy.

Labour has promised an industrial policy that will funnel support to new green industries, like wind power, “blue hydrogen” which uses natural gas to produce an alternative fuel, and carbon capture and storage, which seeks to bury carbon dioxide under the ocean.

Mr Gahr Stoere is a 61-year-old former civil servant. He also owns a large part of his family’s company, which made most of its fortune from the sale in 1977 of a Norwegian company that made cast iron stoves and fireplaces.

He also served as foreign minister from 2005-2013 under then-prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. He took over the reins of the party when Mr Stoltenberg became Nato secretary general.

Nearly 3.9 million Norwegians were eligible and more than 1.6 million of them voted in advance, according to Norway’s election commission. Turnout was 76.5%, down from more than 78% for the previous poll.

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