ELECTION LIVEBLOG: Results, reactions and rants about the 2019 Longyearbyen Community Council vote from Stationen

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(BREAKING – “FINAL” MONDAY RESULTS: Labor (342 votes) and Liberal (333) parties finish in virtual tie, win five seats each; Conservative (184) and Progressive (126) parties each win two seats, Green Party (98) wins one seat. Makeup of next majority is murky. Official results to be released Tuesday. See details after jump)

Welcome to Stationen, where candidates and politicos are gathered for the results of the 2019 Longyearbyen Community Council vote. This liveblog began when the polls closed at 8 p.m. and will post happenings as they happen, so to speak, in reverse chronological order (in other words, those just wanting to skim the top of this for the latest numbers can do so without wading through the mad wordiage further down).

Emphasis: Tonight’s tally is likely to be preliminary, with full official results released tomorrow. But barring tight margins and unexpected alliances (both of which happened last time), tonight’s results should indicate who the leaders of Longyearbyen will be for the next four years.

Bang the box below for all of this evening’s updates…

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Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen of the Labor Party announces the “final” election results (the official tally won’t be released until Tuesday). While his party won the most votes, it may be a symbolic victory if the Liberal Party, which scored a virtual tie and won the same number of council seats, forms a new majority with the right-leaning parties. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

11 p.m.: And that’s a wrap for the liveblog. Look for full and continuing coverage of the results and reactions in far more readable “normal” articles at icepeople.net and in this week’s print issue.

10:40 p.m.: Conservative Party leader Stein Ove Johannessen said the results – which saw his party drop from five seats to two – is obviously disappointing. And a surprise, as was the showing by the Progress Party.

“I think we’ve been underestimating them,” he said. “I didn’t think we were fighting for the same voters, but apparently that was the case.”

The Conservatives’ next move will be discussing majority alliances, but it will be a huge step down from four years ago since they don’t even have enough seats to provide a majority, let alone preside over one themselves.

Whereas the Liberal Party made the deputy mayor’s job the price of allegiance, Johannessen said his party will focus foremost on items from its platform such as reducing living costs and turning over operations of the power plant to somebody besides the city.

Johannessen said he also found Labor’s narrow first-place finish surprising since “they’ve been having a lot of negative feedback with the (loss) of mining,” and suggested the Green Party’s setback might be due to a lesser-caliber campaign than four years ago when two high-profile and popular locals topped the ticket.

10 p.m.: “FINAL” TALLY – LABOR HOLDS SLIM LEAD ON LIBERALS, EACH WIN FIVE SEATS: Labor managed what some called a big surprise by again getting the most votes with 342, but only barely as the Liberals won 333. The results, if upheld in the final official tally Tuesday, mean each party will have five seats on the 15-member council.

The announced count as of now:

• Labor: 342 (five seats)
• Liberal: 333 (five seats)
• Conservative: 184 (two seats)
• Progress: 126 (two seats)
• Green: 98 (one seat)

While plenty of politiking remains, the results suggest there is at least a strong chance Labor will lose its 16-year hold on the council majority, since the Liberals will be in a position to take over rather than have an equal presence by pairing with the Conservative and Progress parties (as they do at the national level).

Mayor Arild Olsen, while not offering his predictions, did say his party has produced a “good result” during its reign and “these (past) four years have been quite rough with nature and losing a lot of industrial workers.” (But it should be noted he offered what essentially was an admission they’d lost the majority four years ago, only to snatch it back with the surprising Liberal alliance).

Olsen said the turnout (61.7 percent) was also encouraging, especially since they weren’t sure they’d be able to reach the large number of new foreign residents. Others suggested that might help account for the relatively strong showing by the Progress Party since, among other specific voter blocs they targeted, they made a point of emphasizing to foreigners they favored citizenship and other rights not currently provided (which, while seemingly odd considering the party’s mainland reputation, was expressed as simply favoring equal rights for all who reside here). Or maybe some voters just found the Progressives personably eclectic.

9:48 p.m.: Folks the Green Party table call the early results depressing but, as one noted, they were in the same situation last time and ultimately ended up with two seats.

9:21 p.m.: Terje Aunevik, the lead candidate for the Liberal Party (and therefore Longyearbyen’s next mayor if his party prevails), said the results of the early count are encouraging, but won’t speculate about possible majority coalition possibilities until there is a final count.

Meanwhile, Per Nilssen of the Labor Party offered an upbeat take of “we’re not in the lead, but we’re close to the lead” and suggested his party would remain in the majority, noting the alliance with Liberals has worked well.

Aunevik, when asked about that, stated his party has had good working relationships and sided separately with both Labor and Conservatives during the past four years.

Read into that what you will.

Meanwhile, here’s how the council would look with the early results:

Liberal: 4 seats
Labor: 4 seats
Conservative: 3 seats
Progress: 3 seats
Green: 1 seat

Speaking strictly as amateur observers, we’re guessing the latter two results might be the most surprising to a lot of people here. Stay tuned while we actually talk to some of them and find out.

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The Liberal Party candidates give the loudest cheer when the early voting results are announced, placing them narrowly in the lead. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

9:04 p.m.: FIRST RESULTS – LIBERALS ON TOP: 

Liberal: 93
Labor: 89
Conservative: 58
Progress: 56
Green: 26

Sign this is not shocking: both Svalbardposten and NRK were hovering at the Liberal table at 9 p.m. when the tally arrived by text.

Right now that’d give the Liberal and Labor parties four seats each – but assuming the not-so-obvious Labor would clearly lose their majority when the aligning in done.

Reactions shortly.

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We’re guessing this isn’t the Green Party’s best scenario for being in the hot seat tonight . Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

8:45 p.m.: Interesting seating arrangements, with the Conservatives/Progressives in one corner and the Labor folks at the opposite end of the restaurant. We’re told this was purely the restaurant’s doing rather than any declaration of ill-will. Meanwhile, the Liberal folks appropriately have a table toward the center while the Greens are seated closest to the artificial fireplace that’s no doubt a frivolous waste of energy from our coal-fired power plant.

8:35 p.m.: While hopefully there won’t be any Russian tampering scandals (but you never know given their militant interest in the place), questions about improper influence were raised by somebody who posted a photo on Facebook of Conservatives campaigning in front of Kulturhuset, where the ballots were cast, asking if such a thing was legal. We wondered the same since in many places it clearly is not, but here it’s OK in the not-getting-arrested sense. But the post ignited a whole new voter tally among locals, with some declaring the candidates were immoral/lame, others questioning the wisdom of “the people” whose minds might be changed by such tactics, and other attacking the guy for invading the candidates’ and voters’ privacy by publishing the picture in the first place. As with the real election, we’re skipping endorsements this time around (not because we’re chickens**t, but because we don’t have the time to do it right).

8:25 p.m.: Good news for the impatient keeping score – it seems the results of early voting (those casting ballots before Sunday and Monday) are scheduled to be announced at 9 p.m. That’ll make good fodder for thought (and speech), but since that’s about 350 out of what might be 1,100-1,200 votes (that’s a guess, admittedly). Last time the results pointed to a possible 7-7 split between Labor and a Conservative/Liberal alliance, with the Greens being the kingmakers with a single seat – but obviously things shifted a fair amount in the final tally.

8 p.m.: We’re off and running as voters have officially selected 15 residents from five political parties for the new Longyearbyen Community Council. All the ballots are cast and awaiting revealing, sort of like a supermodel in a survival suit, so those waiting in eager anticipation can experience the naked truth.

The “new” Election Central this year is the year-old Stationen restaurant (it was at Kroa four years ago), which means that when combined with Karlsberger Pub literally a couple of meters away there’s both more room for people and more room for spirited celebrations (or mourning) as the vote totals roll in.

First (and maybe only) wise thought, for those who care only about the final score:
“Nothing’s going to be known until after 10 p.m.” That comes from the wife of The Candidate Who May Be The Next Mayor, who at this moment is hosting a capacity crowd for the weekly trivia quiz night in her cafe at the other end of this shopping center. Meanwhile, there’s still lots of empty seats at Election Central, even though in theory the gathering was informally scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

So all this is basically just to give people something to look at on their phones in-between taking photos with them, taking the other kind of shots out of picture range (not that we’re tabloid-shaming teetotalers), and getting information of real value from people much more “inside” than we’ll ever be.

For those new to the scene or needing a reminder, here’s the makeup of the current council and majority:

• Labor: five seats
• Conservative: five seats
• Liberal: three seats
• Green: two seats

Labor, despite losing two seats in the last election, kept the majority its held for 16 years by offering the deputy mayor’s job (along with a new half-time salary) to the Liberals in exchange for their support (surprising pretty much everyone who assumed they’d back the Conservatives, as they do at the national level – confusing, we know, if you’re a newbie/outsider). The Greens joined the majority at that point because, well, why not.

Newcomer who’s crashing the party this year

The Progress Party, known primarily on the mainland and beyond as Norway’s version of the anti-foreigner far-right making lots of inroads in Europe and elsewhere, is on the local ballot for the first time with a couple of candidates and the open admission their goal is simply to win enough votes for a single seat on the council. They’ve got a lot more influence nationally, serving in key ministerial positions as part of the Conservative-led governing coalition. The Progressive folks got a lot of notoriety here thanks to the appointing of a series of justice ministers that backfired due to various controversies. But they say here it’s just about being a dissenting voice in contrast to all those bureaucrats stuck in the muck (and they also claim to be the most friendly for foreigners in terms of policy…but not because of stupid proposals like this). We’ll get into that further as the evening gets further along.

Some initial and incompetent punditry, based on casual chats before and during the vote:

• Liberals, who were new to the election last time, may do very well and even prevail this time because 1) they had the most candidates on the ballot of all the parties (boosting their total among straight-ticket voters) and 2) their top candidate is Terje Aunevik, the charismatic and very well-connected head of the Svalbard Businesses Association. That and, y’know, moderate platform and electing some new leadership for a new era.

• There were some favorable remarks about the aggressive effort by Conservatives (maybe too aggressive – see more later about somebody who did try to election shame the candidates online), who might retain or further the gains they made last time, especially among new/young/foreign voters worried about their wallets more than peers inclined to go Green.

• Speaking of the Greens, it won’t be a shock if they win a third seat due to the increasing number of residents likely to be sympathetic to the cause, not to mention all the high-profile climate change events/effects/news of the past four years.

• As for Labor, people seem to be holding their breath as we learn whether the incumbents 1) suffer from the loss of the traditional mining society/residents that have kept them in power for so long and/or 2) suffer the blame for setbacks from the past four years ranging from the loss of mining to other hardships such as the aftermath of the avalanches that took homes and lives.

Our wiseass (not wise) scenario for the most intriguing outcome:

• Liberals win four seats and Conservatives three, and for whatever reason they pair up this time.

• Labor wins four seats and Greens three, and they do the bondage thing.

• Progress Party wins one seat, making them them kingmakers who decide the majority. It’s easy to say “duh, of course they’ll align with the Conservatives” (heck, they’re sitting at the same table here at Election Central). Except that’s what people assumed about the Liberals last time. What happens when the Progress folks decide there’s an asking price for their support and might the Conservatives again blow (or Liberals triumph, depending on your point of view) in romancing those unruly upstarts?

 

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