Labour party loses position as the largest party in Norway for the first time in 90 years.
In a major political shift, Norway saw a conservative resurgence in local elections on Monday night, leading to significant setbacks for the incumbent Labour and Centre Parties.
The Conservative Party, led by former Prime Minister Erna Solberg, emerged as the country’s largest party, a position it hasn’t occupied since 1924.
Solberg’s party garnered a significant 25.9 percent of the votes, a 5.8 percentage point increase from the previous municipal election. “A 99-year tradition was broken today,” a jubilant Solberg stated.
The Labour Party led by Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre faced a historic slump, receiving only 21.7 percent of the votes nationally. This marks their worst performance in a municipal election.
But the Centre Party faced an even steeper decline, with their vote share plummeting 6.2 points, ending at just 8.2 percent. The party, which traditionally holds sway in salmon farming regions, especially in the north, was a notable loser in this election.
Centre Party leader Trygve Vedum, who is also Norway’s Finance Minister and the architect of the controversial salmon tax, accepted the results, stating, “We had higher ambitions than this.”
Salmon tax looms large
According to national broadcaster NRK, the Labour-Centre coalition lost one in three voters in fish farming regions, with specific districts seeing the Centre Party’s support rapidly diminishing.
The Norwegian parliament, the Storting, officially adopted the aquaculture tax proposal of 25 percent known as the salmon tax in May.
The government first proposed a new 40 percent tax on the salmon industry in September, 2022. In March, it presented an updated proposal of a 35 percent tax, based on feedback during its consultation period in the fall.
The final proposal, was agreed by the Labour Party (AP), the Centre Party (SP), the Liberal Party (Venstre) and Patient Focus, which gave them the required majority in the Norwegian Parliament.
Since then, the country’s salmon largest salmon farming companies, including Mowi and Salmar, have led a campaign to have the tax rescinded that has included the freezing of billions of dollars in investment in rural areas, and even taking the government to court.
Conservative Party leader Solberg has pledged to either abolish or significantly reduce this tax should the Conservatives form the next national government.
Cost of living crisis
However, it’s not just the tax that’s causing ripples. The rising cost of living, including hikes in electricity and food prices over the past year and a half, is believed to have further alienated voters from the Labour Party, particularly in urban centres where aquaculture doesn’t play a significant role.
Støre’s coalition has been under strain since its formation in 2021, grappling with a series of challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and soaring electricity rates coupled with increasing inflation.
Despite these results reflecting local sentiments, the overarching national trends seem evident, casting shadows on the future of the Labour and Centre Parties in the lead-up to the 2025 national elections.