Oslo (AFP) – Norwegians voted on Monday in an election nail-biter that will decide whether “the world’s happiest country” will be run by the outgoing rightwing coalition or the opposition for the next four years.
Opinion polls have predicted an extraordinarily close race between Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s team and the opposition led by Labour’s Jonas Gahr Store.
Several small parties could end up as kingmakers in the oil-rich Nordic state.
Everything is “set for the biggest election thriller in many decades,” a political commentator for TV2 television said after a final opinion poll published Saturday credited the right with the narrowest possible majority, albeit within the margin of error.
In power since 2013, the coalition government, comprising Solberg’s Conservatives and the mildly populist anti-immigration Progress Party, has campaigned on a vow of continuity.
The government has successfully steered the wealthy country of 5.3 million — Western Europe’s biggest oil producer — through two crises: the oil industry’s slump after the drop in crude prices since 2014, and the migrant crisis in 2015.
“We want four more years to continue doing what works,” the popular and experienced 56-year-old Solberg said.
Over the past four years, the right has focused on kickstarting the economy and preparing the country for the post-oil era by reducing taxes.
The opposition and many economists have however criticised the government for dipping too generously into the country’s massive sovereign wealth fund, worth almost $1 trillion.
Meanwhile, Store, a millionaire, has vowed to raise taxes for the richest, in a bid to bolster Norwegians’ cherished welfare state and reduce inequalities in society.
“We need a change now because we are growing apart from each other,” the 57-year-old Labour leader said Sunday after casting his ballot — with “butterflies in his stomach” — with his wife in a school in a predominantly Conservative neighbourhood west of Oslo where they live.
– Protest vote –
Polls opened at 9am (0700 GMT) and will close at 9pm (1900 GMT), when the first partial results will be released.
But in the main cities, polling stations opened on Sunday, the eve of the official voting day. Many voters — more than one million of the 3.76 million registered — also cast their ballots early in advance voting.
The Conservatives and Labour agree on many issues: continuing oil activities in the Arctic, a restricted immigration policy, and close ties with the EU, of…