LABOR OUTMANEUVERS LIBERALS: Incumbents keep council majority by luring Conservative and Progressive parties


The Labor Party is set to extend its 16-year leadership of the Longyearbyen Community Council for another four years by forming a majority with the Conservative and Progress parties, who say they didn’t form a coalition with the strong-finishing Liberal Party because its offer focused on appointments to positions but not policy concessions.

The agreement reached with Labor late Sunday night includes appointing Conservative Party leader Kjetil Figenschou deputy mayor – an offer that might also be expected from Liberals – and allowing Conservatives to form and preside over a new Environment and Business Committee. The Labor Party’s Arild Olsen will retain the mayor’s job he has held for the past four years.

The Conservative Party criticized Labor harshly during the campaign for, among other things, its response to the near total shutdown of Store Norske’s mining operations that resulted in a loss of about 300 jobs. But that was glossed over in press releases issued by the new majority parties Monday.

“The cooperation between Labor and Conservatives will be anchored in a solid political platform, which will be constitution with the formation of the new local council on Oct. 28,” declares a release from Labor, which cites a “political agreement” with Conservatives, and “electoral partnership” with Conservatives and Progressives. “We already agree on a number of specific core issues, which also takes into account the agreement between the Conservative and Progressive parties.

“We then have a number of similar program points with the Conservative and Progress parties so that there is a good foundation for cooperation in the years to come. We have also seen the important added value that both the Conservatives and Progress parties have with good contact with the foreign population in our city.”

The agreement is a big setback for the Liberal Party after it finished five votes behind Labor in the election (with Labor prevailing 350-345), but ended up with four of the 15 council seats to Labor’s five due to the formula allocating them. Conservatives won three seats, Progressives two and the Green Party one, meaning Liberals could still wrest majority control from Labor by forming a coalition with the Conservatives (a pairing that exists at the national level) and one other party.

But Conservatives, in their press released, stated they had already reached a partnership agreement with the Progress Party before the election and when negotiations began after the vote Labor was clearly more accommodating than the Liberals.

“It became clear that the Labor Party was the only party that wanted to discuss political issues before positions,” the Conservative release notes. “In addition, the Labor Party was the only party that from the first moment was prepared to respect the agreement we had already signed with the Progress Party.”