Oslo: Norway has shifted right in elections, ending eight years of centre-left rule and setting the stage for a new Conservative-led government with the populist anti-immigration Progress Party as junior partner.
Incumbent Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party conceded defeat late yesterday, while his challenger, Conservative leader Erna Solberg, hailed "a historic election win".
With three quarters of the votes counted, a bloc of four centre-right parties had won 96 of 169 seats in parliament. Stoltenberg`s three-party coalition controlled 72, with one seat going to an independent environmental party.
"In accordance with Norwegian parliamentary tradition, I will seek the resignation of my government after the presentation of the national budget on October 14, when it`s clear that there is a parliamentary basis for a new government," said Stoltenberg.
Just minutes afterwards, the nation`s likely next prime minister, 52-year-old Solberg, appeared in a triumphant mood in front of supporters in the Norwegian capital.
"Today the voters have produced a historic election victory for the right-wing parties," she said.
The most often-cited scenario prior to the election has been for a minority government made up of the Conservatives and the Progress Party. As of late Monday it was unclear if the smaller Christian Democrats and the Liberals would seek to join the government or act as legislative support.
The Progress Party looked set to lose 12 seats in parliament, which would leave it with 29. But it still treated the result as victory, as it now faced the first chance in its 40-year history of being part of a government.
"We are going to negotiate a platform for the government, and we have said throughout the campaign that we wanted to leave a serious footprint on the platform," said Progress Party leader Siv Jensen.
Solberg`s victory, one of the largest in her party`s history, comes in spite of the fact that the oil-rich nation has fared exceptionally well under Stoltenberg.
"The country is doing pretty well, but that`s because of the oil, not because of the leaders," said a 29-year-old voter earlier yesterday after voting at Oslo`s city hall.
Having cast his ballot in favour of the Progress Party, he added: "It`s time to get a new government".
Stoltenberg`s two consecutive terms mark an unusually long tenure, even in politically stable Norway.
During this period, he has steered the nation through Europe`s worst post-war economic crisis, warding off any threat to Norway`s very high standard of living.
Significantly, one of the top election issues was the proper use of Norway`s oil fund, which at USD 750 billion is the world`s largest sovereign wealth fund.
Given the general material wealth, and the lack of any serious discontent in society, the weak showing of 54-year-old Stoltenberg`s coalition is mostly put down to power fatigue.