Right turn: Conservatives pull even with Labor on local council; offer mayor’s spot to Liberals in bid for majority


Maybe it was the common practice of ousting the ruling party during a crisis. Maybe it was the pledge to seek more help from the national government to retain existing jobs. Maybe they were driven to vote at the last minute by a poll showing them losing badly. Maybe it was an appeal to the large – and largely ignored – bloc of non-Norwegian voters.

Or maybe (you saw this coming) it was some combination of them.

Whatever the motivations, Longyearbyen stands a strong chance of being governed by a far different group of leaders as it faces perhaps its most serious crisis ever, with the Conservative Party gaining two seats and the ruling Labor Party losing two seats in the Longyearbyen Community Council election.

That gives both parties five out of the council’s 15 seats, meaning the Liberal Party – which won three seats in its first time on the local ballot – will be the kingmaker in forming a new majority coalition. The initial assumption among many politicians and the media was the Liberals would align with the Conservatives, as they do at the national level, but talks with both the Conservative and Labor parties are now expected to continue until at least until next week.

“We have asked them both the same questions,” said Kristin Furu Grøtting, one of the three Liberal Party members who will be on the council.

The Conservative Party is willing to appoint a Liberal Party member as Longyearbyen’s mayor and head of the council, according to NRK. The network also reported the Labor Party is resisting such a concession because their party, despite losing seats, got the most votes.

The Labor Party got 347 votes, Conservatives got 299, the Liberal Party 212 and the Green Party – also on the ballot for the first time – got 136.

A poll conducted by Svalbardposten in late September showed Labor winning nine seats with 56.5 percent of the vote, the Conservatives three seats with 21 percent, the Greens two with 13 percent of the vote and Liberals one seat with 9.7 percent. Many voters interviewed on Election Day said that while they expected Labor to win a majority, they didn’t like the idea of one party being dominant.

Another factor that may have swing votes in the Conservative Party’s favor was an outreach to the Thai community, by far the largest group of non-Norwegian residents who are rapidly representing an increasing percentage of the Norwegian settlements in Svalbard. A report by Statistics Norway in mid-September showed 25 percent of the 2,200 residents are foreigners and they represented 45 percent of all newcomers during the first half of this year.

The Conservative’s fourth-ranked member, Khanittha Sinpru, will become the council’s first Thai member, and the party reached out to the group during the election by meeting with them and including a pledge in its platform to pursue Norwegian citizenship rights for some foreigners living exclusively in Svalbard.

Arild Olsen, the top-ranked Labor Party candidate, said he’s surprised by the results and isn’t quite sure how a different majority might affect the council’s decisions as it grapples with the ongoing economic crisis.

“To be honest I’m not quite sure because I haven’t figured out which way the Conservatives or Liberals are going,” he said, adding he feels many of their proposed “solutions” are things Labor was already addressing.

Early returns showed the Green Party might play the role of kingmaker despite winning only one seat, since Labor and a Conservative/Liberal bloc would have seven seats apiece. But Helga Kristiansen, the top-ranked Green Party candidate, said she prefers winning two seats, even if it means less influence.

“It might put us in a position where we might have to swallow a lot of camels,” she said.

The following are the members of the next Longyearbyen Community Council (the ballot rankings of candidates elected to different spots are noted in parenthesis):

Conservative Party:
1. Torgeir Prytz
2. Kjetil Figenschou
3. Stein-Ove Skilbrei Johannessen
4. Khanittha Sinpru
5. Geir Hekne (eighth on ballot)

Labor Party:
1. Arild Olsen
2. Elise Stømseng
3. Øyvind Snibsøer
4. Bente Næverdal
5. Odd Gunnar Brøto Braathen

Liberal Party:
1. Eirik Berger
2. Leif Terje Aunevik (eighth on ballot)
3. Kristin Furu Grøtting (fourth on ballot)

Green Party:
1. Helga Bårdsdatter Kristiansen
2. Espen Klungseth Rotevatn (third on ballot)