Are they nuts? Longyearbyen council hopefuls fight for right to lead city during what may be its worst crisis ever

debate

If they win they’ll spend a huge portion of the next four years sitting in meetings, probably listening to irate residents upset about the miserable times Longyearbyen is going through and arguing how things ought to be fixed. So why do any of them want the job?

In part because all of them agree the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train. And for the first time ever, all of the folks applying for the posit-ions have supporters in Parliament, which in truth will largely determine how much help the city will get to weather the crisis.

All of the Longyearbyen Community Council’s 15 seats are up for grabs in the municipal election this Sunday and Monday. While it appears there’s a good chance the Labor Party will hold onto its rulership of the council – and possibly even expand its plurality into an outright majority, the makeup of the council will almost certain be far different and likely to result in far more active debate than past elections.

Joining the Labor and Conservative parties – representing the two largest in Norway, respectively – are the Liberal Party and Green Party. Both of the latter have one or more members in Parliament, unlike the Non-Partisan and Konsekvenslista parties from the previous local election, which many candidates said has resulted in a far more robust campaign. Candidates began campaigning a few months before the election, rather than a few weeks as in the past, and there appears to be more public interest and pointed debate.

“I think for the first time you have a proper political discussion before the election,” said Helga Kristiansen, the top-ranked candidate for the Green Party.

Whatever their differences, the candidates also said one constant from past election is the parties largely agree on many issues – it’s the differences in a few areas that matter. And their agreement goes beyond policy to the campaign itself.

“We talked earlier on about how we have to raise the consciousness,” said Torgeir Prytz, the top-ranked Conservative Party candidate.

Another thing many parties agree upon is not enough is being done to reach non-Norwegian voters (residents are eligible to vote after three years), given that the percentage of foreign residents is rising and the concerns of many – especially the Thai community – are especially pronounced as Longyearbyen faces mass layoffs in the near future.