New Center-Right Coalition Replaces Labor Government in Norway

Friday, October 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ A new center-right coalition took power Friday after the traditional powerhouse of Norwegian politics - Labor - was humiliated last month in its worst election since 1924.

Many Norwegians hope a new non-socialist government will ease some of Europe's highest taxes on income, cars, alcohol and tobacco, while improving the services of the welfare state.

Lutheran clergyman and Christian Democrat Kjell Magne Bondevik officially took power after an afternoon meeting with King Harald V, ousting the Labor government that brought down his previous coalition down in March 2000.

Bondevik presented his second minority government, with six ministers from the Christian Democrats, 10 from the Conservative Party and three from the Liberal Party.

``We have a good political platform,'' Bondevik said Friday. ``We are going to work from a long-term perspective, but as a minority government we always have to be ready to leave.''

The coalition's platform includes tax cuts, more privatization, better welfare, health and education, and more spending of the vast surplus revenues Norway has as the world's second largest oil exporter. However, it has few definite proposals, mainly calling for studies of various options.

The 54-year-old Bondevik took three and a half weeks of sick leave in 1998 during his last term as prime minister after suffering severe depression from overwork.

But many in this tolerant Scandinavian country of 4.5 million people praised his openness and he says the experience made him stronger and taught him how to conserve his time and emotional energy.

Labor's Jens Stoltenberg, who took power from Bondevik 19 months ago, announced Wednesday that his socialist minority government was resigning. He said it was clear that parliament wanted a change, after the non-socialist bloc gained a majority.

The first Bondevik government, a coalition of his party, the Liberals and the Center Party, also took over from a Labor government, which resigned in October 1997 after another disappointing election.

Stoltenberg said Friday as he stepped down that the new government likely would last the next four years, but Labor would not be far away.

``We will be a significant and clear opposition party that will cooperate (with the government) to find solutions,'' Stoltenberg said.

Bondevik's coalition, which has 62 seats in the 165-seat parliament, was able to oust Labor after the anti-immigrant populist Party of Progress promised support from its 26 seats for a majority.

But most parties agree on the need for extensive social benefits, staying in NATO and that the time is not right for another bitter debate on European Union membership.

``There is basically a consensus among parties on holding a steady course,'' political scientist Frank Aarebrot said. He also said the government change was not a shift to the right but rather a move away from Labor.