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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09OSLO549 2009-09-10 16:09:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Oslo
Cable title:  

NORWAY'S SEPTEMBER 14 NATIONAL ELECTIONS: LOTS OF DRAMA,

Tags:   PGOV PREL NO 
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E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL NO
SUBJECT: NORWAY'S SEPTEMBER 14 NATIONAL ELECTIONS: LOTS OF DRAMA,
TOO CLOSE TO CALL

Ref: (A) Oslo 00476, (B) Oslo 00522



1. (U)Summary: With the Red Green governing coalition and the
center-right opposition parties neck and neck, Monday's national
election is destined to be a close one. The latest polls indicate a
slim opposition victory, which would give them a majority of the
seats in the national assembly and a shot at forming a government.
However, a huge divide among the opposition parties could result in
extended parliamentary negotiations on who is to take over. End
Summary

"From Jens or Jensen" to "Stoltenberg or Solberg"


--------------------------

---


2. (U)Just a few weeks ago, Norwegian press and commentators
focused on "Jens or Jensen," and the tight race between the two
leaders of the two largest parties, the Labor Party (Ap) and the
Progress Party (FrP), led by Jens Stoltenberg and Siv Jensen,
respectively. Now, with the Conservative Party (H), led by Erna
Solberg, closing in on the Progress Party, focus has shifted to the
competition between "Stoltenberg or Solberg," as Solberg is now
well-placed to form a center-right government in a coalition with
the Christian Democratic (KrF) and the Liberal Party (V). Those
three center-right parties combined are now bigger than the Progress
Party; a trend likely to continue as Norwegians go to the ballot box
on Monday. (Historically, FrP generally loses ground in the final
days as elections approach.)

Erna Solberg: the Election's Dark Horse


--------------------------




3. (U)Conservative Party Leader Erna Solberg has made an unexpected
comeback in the last few weeks before the election and is now
featured prominently in media as potential Prime Minister material.
While her party struggled in the polls over the summer, it has
steadily increased its standing in polls and among media
commentators. To date, Solberg's goal to unify the four
center-right opposition parties and develop a common governing
platform has failed. However, her humble approach has raised her
profile and provided her a statesman's aura, as her fellow
politicians bicker amongst themselves. Mrs. Solberg admits that she
is riding two horses at once, keeping both the H plus FrP coalition
option and the H, KrF, and V coalition option open. All opposition
parties, however split on key issues and with solid guarantees,
assure that voting for a non-socialist party means voting for change
of government.

No Definitive Answer is Likely on Election Day


--------------------------

-


4. (U)On the left, the governing Red-Green coalition may pull it
off and retain a majority between the three parties, with possible
support from the Red party which hopes to enter parliament with one
or two seats this fall. The only immediately clear outcome would be
if the Red Green parties win a majority. Other types of outcomes
could take several days or two weeks to sort out. At present, many
polls show that the three Red-Green parties do not have the votes to
remain in power as a majority government. On the right, the Liberal
Party (V) has refused to support any government that includes FrP,
and FrP has declared it will not support a center-right government
of which it is not a part. Because those pre-election promises
block four-party cooperation on the right, post does not anticipate
the election will result in a majority center-right government.
Instead, it may take a week or two after the election for the
intra-party politics to sort themselves out into which side gets to
form a minority government.



5. (U)The Mechanics of forming a post election minority coalition:
Norway's parliamentary system allows for a minority government to be
formed without positive consent from majority of the national
assembly. Whatever party or parties want to govern in the minority
do not need an affirmative vote of the majority to support them, but
they do need to ensure a majority doesn't actively oppose them.
Traditionally, when an incumbent government loses its parliamentary
majority in an election, the current Prime Minister, through the
King of Norway, asks the largest opposition party or bloc of parties
to form a government. According to current polls, H, KrF, and V,
who might together draw some 33-36 percent of the 169 seats in
parliament, would be asked to try to form that new government.
Whether they can succeed in doing so will depend on the final
numbers, the relative strength of each party on the left and on the
right, and the moods of various parties in the negotiations that
begin as final election results become clear.

Scenario 1: Center-Right government, potentially short-lived


--------------------------

---


6. (U)A center-right Solberg-led cabinet would not require FrP
support to be installed as the new Norwegian government. However,
such a government could receive a vote of no confidence just days or
weeks after it starts, if a majority of parliament votes against its
inaugural national budget (which is submitted concurrently right
when the new government starts in early October). If it survives
the initial budget debate, it could fall at any time thereafter on a

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question of confidence in the government itself. FrP has said in
recent days that it would not necessarily support a minority,
center-right government during budget negotiations. If that implied
threat is carried out, this position could quickly bring down a
nascent minority Solberg-led government and hand power to the only
realistic alternative: a minority Labor Party government, which has
been the norm in the post-World War II period. Some FrP officials
have gone so far to say publicly that they would rather have a Labor
Party minority government than a minority center-right government
that excludes them.



7. (U)To avoid FrP's plan to upend a center-right minority
government, a Solberg cabinet could decide to accept the current
Red-Green coalition government's proposed 2010 national budget,
hoping to gain support from the left-leaning parties. This would
buy them some time to let post-election tempers cool. They could
promise the FrP that they would accommodate the center right
parties' interests in budget changes during the January budget
review. The Labor Party would be prepared throughout the next
four-year government term to take over and form its own minority
government if a center-right government falls.

Scenario 2: Minority Labor government


--------------------------




8. (U)Another likely outcome is that the current Red Green
coalition government loses the election, but the Labor Party, the
largest coalition partner, forms the next government. This could be
done if the party exploits the center-right parties' inability to
cooperate. Current Prime Minister and Labor Party Leader Jens
Stoltenberg would form that new government with Labor Party
politicians only. This will give the government more room to
maneuver before passing draft legislation to the national assembly,
and it could then seek a majority on issues with different parties
on the left and the right on a case-by-case basis.

Scenario 3: Continued Red Green government


--------------------------




9. (U)If the Red Greens succeed beyond their current poll numbers
and receive a majority of seats in parliament, the current coalition
would continue in government along more or less the same lines as
the status quo, with minor cabinet adjustments. PM Stoltenberg has,
in the campaign's final days, tried to capitalize on his personal
popularity, emphasizing that if the Prime Minister election were a
direct one, he has the largest support, with Siv Jensen and Erna
Solberg trailing far behind. To realize their hope for him to be
Prime Minister, he has said, voters have to turn out and vote for
Labor or one of its coalition partners.

Changes in Foreign and Defense Policy - Nothing Drastic


--------------------------

--


10. (U)Norwegian foreign policy debate is characterized by
consensus, meaning, not a whole lot would change with a new
government. Hence, foreign policy has not been a key issue in this
year's election. Norwegian Middle East policy is likely to change
with a centre-right government. A Christian Democratic foreign
minister would, for example, mean a more Israel-friendly policy and
a more sober view of dialogue with and aid funneled through
Palestinian organizations like Hamas. However unlikely, a Progress
Party-run foreign and defense policy would take it a step further
and actively support Israeli foreign policy.



11. (U)On Afghanistan, all opposition parties want to remove the
existing national caveat on Norway's contribution to the ISAF, a
caveat introduced by the Socialist Left Party and supported by their
coalition partners Labor and SP. The current defense budget amounts
to 20 billion USD and is likely to increase only moderately if the
Red Green coalition government gets reelected. A Labor minority or
center-right minority government would also likely increase defense
spending moderately, while any constellation with the Progress Party
would likely push to increase funding to all military spheres,
adding up to 1 billion USD more for defense spending each year in
the next parliament term.

HEG