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Updated: September 15, 2009 16:59 IST

Re-elected Stoltenberg to fight climate change

AP
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Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, during the Norwegian general elections, on Sept. 14, 2009. Photo: AP
AP
Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, during the Norwegian general elections, on Sept. 14, 2009. Photo: AP

Norway’s prime minister on Tuesday said fighting climate change would be a priority in his second term after his left-leaning government beat a splintered opposition to win re-election.

Jens Stoltenberg’s Labour-led coalition won 86 seats to keep a slim majority in the 169-seat Parliament after using oil money to shield the Nordic welfare state from the global recession.

The opposition won 83 seats, according to the initial official count. A final tally was expected later this week.

“We have a majority to lead the country for four more years,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters in Oslo. “We will secure jobs, renew and refresh the welfare state and advance questions related to climate change.”

The 50-year-old Labour leader, the first Norwegian prime minister to win re-election in 16 years, said Norway will press for a global climate pact later this year at negotiations in Copenhagen. A key issue, he said, would be for rich countries to help developing nations pay for reductions in greenhouse emissions.

“There will be no change ... unless rich countries take the responsibility to pay for cuts in poorer countries,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

He renewed the government’s commitment to make Norway carbon neutral by 2030. That pledge, however, does not account for the country’s oil exports.

Asked whether he would raise the issue of Norway seeking European Union membership, Mr. Stoltenberg said his country would follow developments in Iceland, which recently applied to join the 27-member bloc.

“I think we can wait and see what happens in Iceland,” he said. “If they become members, then we will evaluate the situation.”

He noted, however, that Norwegian voters have twice rejected EU membership. “I want to fight battles I know I can win,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

The election result means that Norway continues to buck a trend that has seen centre-right blocs take power in its Nordic neighbours Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Norway has escaped the financial crisis largely unscathed, partly by tapping into its oil and gas-fuelled sovereign wealth fund — currently valued at more than 2.4 trillion kroner ($400 billion). Unemployment stands at 3 percent — among the lowest in Europe.

Oil and gas pumped from North Sea platforms have made the fjord-fringed country of 4.8 million people one of the world’s richest nations. But that wealth also presents a challenge for sitting governments, who must balance the risk of overheating the domestic economy with Norwegians’ high demands on the cradle-to-grave welfare system.

The last prime minister to win re-election in Norway was Labour’s Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1993.

The right-wing populist Progress Party, led by Siv Jensen, blamed Mr. Stoltenberg’s government for bad roads, crowded asylum centres and long waiting lists for non-emergency treatment at public hospitals.

Labour remained Norway’s biggest party, winning 64 seats with 35 percent of the vote, the results showed. Its junior partners, the Socialist Left and the Center Party, each won 11 seats.

The opposition suffered from a split over immigration between the Progress Party and the smaller Liberal party and the Christian Democrats. Jensen’s party alienated the two centre-right parties with calls for higher demands on immigrants to integrate into Norwegian society and a proposal to build Norwegian asylum centres in Africa.

More than 10 percent of Norway’s population is of foreign origin, with large groups of asylum-seekers coming from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

The Progress Party, which has seen support surge in recent years, had its best election ever, grabbing 41 seats with 23 percent of the vote. The Liberals saw the biggest setback, losing eight seats for a total of two.


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