'Iron Erna' replaces Stoltenberg as Norway's prime minister as centre-right bloc takes power

OSLO – Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg — nicknamed “Iron Erna” — will become Norway’s new prime minister as the leader of a centre-right coalition government likely including an anti-immigration party.

Preliminary results from the oil-rich Nordic country’s parliamentary elections shows the Conservative Party got 26.8 per cent of votes, the best result for the party in 28 years. Solberg, who will be Norway’s second female prime minister after Gro Harlem Brundtland, thanked the voters Monday for a historic victory.

“The voters had the choice between 12 years of red-green government or a new government with new ideas and new solutions,” Solberg said.

The current prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who has led Norway for eight years, conceded defeat, saying his Labor Party tried “to do what almost no one has done, to win three elections in a row, but it turned out to be tough.”

The discovery of oil and gas in Norway’s waters in the 1960s turned the Scandinavian nation into one of the richest in the world, with a strong welfare system and a high living standard. The oil wealth helped it withstand Europe’s financial crisis and retain low unemployment throughout Stoltenberg’s years in power. Still, the Conservative Party has managed to attract votes amid pledges to increase the availability of private health care and cut taxes on assets over $140,000.

Frank Aarebrot, Professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen, said the election campaign was dominated by classical welfare issues, such as better care for the elderly, improved hospitals and better schools.

Yet, none of the parties suggested that Norwegians should have to pay for things such as hospital visits, college education or elderly care.

“Everybody agrees that should be for free,” he said.

The Conservative Party has said for the first time that it is prepared to form a coalition government with the anti-immigration Progress Party, which was the third biggest party in the election. Solberg will now likely begin negotiations with them, as well as with the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats.

According to preliminary results, she needs the support of all three parties to get a majority government, but could end up running a minority government with the Progress Party with support from the two others, if they refuse to share power with the Progress Party.

This was the first parliamentary election since Anders Behring Breivik — who was a member of the Progress Party before he lost faith in democracy — killed 77 people in 2011 and thirty-three survivors of the massacre were seeking national office in the election.

Stoltenberg was admired for his calm demeanour after the terror acts, which were unequivocally condemned by all parties, and there was a short-lived boost in support for Labor. However, a report last year criticizing Norwegian police for a litany of institutional failures before and during the attacks dented his government’s prestige.

In Monday’s election, the Labor Party appeared set to remain the biggest single party, with 30.8 per cent of the votes. Still, together with its two coalition partners, the Socialist Party and the Center Party, it lost support since the last election, getting only 40.4 per cent of votes.

“I want a change of government because I am liberal-conservative and believe in more deregulation and private solutions,” said Haakon Gloersen, a 25-year-old communications adviser, who voted for the Liberal Party.

Oeyvind Nordli, a 44-year-old salesman, said he voted for the conservatives because he thought it would benefit him personally and because he dislikes the Labor Party’s tax policy.


Malin Rising reported from Stockholm. Associated Press television producer David MacDougall contributed to this report.