Oslo: Norwegians will go to the polls for a final day of voting on Monday in a parliamentary election that remains too close to call between Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s centre-right block and the centre-left opposition headed by the Labour Party.
While Solberg’s Conservatives want to cut taxes in a bid to boost growth if they win a fresh mandate, Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere seeks tax hikes to fund better public services.
The outcome could also impact Norway’s oil industry, as either Solberg or Gahr Stoere is likely to depend on one or more small parties that seek to impose limits on exploration in Arctic waters off Norway’s northern coast.
Exit polls and forecasts based on early votes will be made public on Monday at 1900 GMT, and most ballots will be counted in the following hours, but in the case of an exceptionally tight race the wait could last until late Tuesday.
Adding to the suspense are the formulas used to allocate seats under Norway’s system of proportional representation, which give a boost to parties that clear a four-percent hurdle.
Five parties, two on the left, two on the right as well as the independent Greens, are all close to this threshold, opinion polls show.
“This can tip the scale one way or the other,” Professor Toril Aalberg of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology told Reuters.
For much of the year, Labour and its allies were ahead in the polls and favoured to win a clear victory, but support for the government has risen as the economy gradually recovered from a slump in the price of crude oil, Norway’s top export.
Unemployment, which a year ago hit a 20-year high of five percent, has since declined to 4.3%, while consumer confidence is at a ten-year high.
Opinion polls in September on average have given Solberg’s four-party bloc 85 seats in the 169-member parliament, just enough for a majority, while Labour and the centre-left are expected to secure 84 seats.
The election winner will face tricky coalition negotiations and will have to meet tough demands from smaller parties to keep their support over the next four years.
The Greens want to end all oil exploration, citing concerns over climate change and pollution, while other smaller parties that may be involved in coalition talks also want to limit the award of new exploration acreage.
“It’s exciting, and extremely close, so it’s important for all to vote. Every ballot counts,” Finance Minister Siv Jensen of the right-wing Progress Party told independent TV2 on Sunday.
Campaigning ahead of the final day, Labour’s Gahr Stoere expressed hopes of a late rally to clinch the election.
“Thousands of voters are still undecided,” he told reporters.