ELECTION 2019: Labor get big boost from a few final votes, gaining one council seat advantage over Liberals in official tally


A few uncounted votes significantly and strangely shook up the Longyearbyen Community Council on Tuesday evening, as the Labor Party’s lead over the Liberal Party shrank to five votes (from nine in the preliminary count), yet the 350-345 tally was enough to give Labor a one-seat advantage on the 15-member council with five members compared to four for Liberals.

Both parties got five seats in the preliminary count announced Monday, but the seat Liberals lost a day later was given to the Conservative Party which finished with 190 votes and three council seats. The Progress Party with 130 votes retained its two seats and the Green Party with 97 votes retained one.

The question now is how much, if at all, the official count affects negotiations to form a majority coalition on the council. 

In one sense, Liberals still have the ability to seize control from Labor, which has held the majority for 16 years, by reaching an agreement with the Conservative and either Progress or Green parties (a Conservative/Liberal/Progress alignment exists at the national level). But Labor now has more scenarios to retain its hold and proved in the last election it has the ability to secure unexpected alliances.

Conservatives – which suffered a large setback from the five seats it won four years ago – are now in a stronger bargaining position since, for example, they alone could provide Labor with a majority for the right price (and have, in fact, been part of a Labor majority after previous elections when the incumbents had a more solid grip on power). Even the Progress and Green parties, seemingly strange bedfellows, have the ability to be kingmakers if they decide to pair up and join Labor.

Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen posted a victorious-themed message on his Facebook page shortly after the official vote was announced.

“Despite having had the majority position for a long time, and despite the last four years having been tough with natural disasters and sharp cutbacks in our cornerstone industry, we have created new policy with great support,” he wrote. “We’re proud of this! Now we’re going into negotiating mode.”

For Liberals to lose a council seat while actually narrowing the total vote gap with Labor is strange, said Terje Aunevik, lead candidate for the Liberal Party and thus the next mayor if his party presides over a majority. But he said he doesn’t expect the updated results to significantly alter negotiations by his party.

The members of the new council, according to the city’s website:

Labor: Elise Strømseng, Arild Olsen, Per Nilssen, Kristin Furu Grøtting and Anders Magne Lindseth.

Liberal: Terje Aunevik, Karine Margre, Helle Myhrvang Jakobsen and Håvar Fjerdingøy.

Conservative: Stein-Ove Skilbrei Johannessen, Kjetil Figenschou and Ida Lehn.

Progress: Jørn Dybdahl and Arnt Vegar Jensen.

Green: Pål Øyvind Berg.

This is a breaking story and will be updated with details and reactions as they are available.