Norway is the world’s most democratic country according to ‘The Economist’ magazine’s ‘democracy index’ of 2019. With 9.87 points out of a possible 10, Norway tops the 167 countries included in the index. Iceland is just behind, Sweden follows in third place as the most democratic EU country, followed by New Zealand. Denmark, Canada, Ireland, Finland, Australia, and Switzerland.
On the 13th of September, Norwegians will once again celebrate their democratic endeavours as they vote for their preferred parties and candidates at the parliamentary elections. Nine parties have a chance of making it to Parliament, but there are always small fringe parties trying their luck. There exists a four-percentage threshold rule, and parties reaching that will get additional representatives.
The ten countries from the democracy index make up the group which, with more than 9 points, gets the term “full democracy”. In the same category, but in the score range of 8-9, are the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, the UK, Austria, Malta, Spain, and Uruguay. At the opposite end of the scale are Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, and North Korea.
This full-democracy Norwegian electoral system is based on the principles of direct election and proportional representation in multi-member electoral divisions. There is a balance between provincial and compensatory seats and the geographical distribution of seats and electoral formulae.
But do such technical democratic assurances and international accolades prove that elections and the Norwegian democratic system truly reflect all people’s wishes or opinions? Not quite if we are to believe the activists in Extinction Rebellion. In late August, they staged several illegal sit-down actions in the centre of the capital city of Oslo, protesting against what they label to be Norway’s meek policies on climate issues. They claim that the democratic system today doesn’t consider the massive disruptions our consumerist society leaves the coming generations with. Rising temperatures, vanishing forests and continued nature destruction aren’t reflected in the slow action of the national Parliament.
Increased youth participation
On the other hand, with further demonstrations, labelled as a climate roar on the 27th of August in several cities in the country, environmental organizations, grandparents and youth organizations, together with labour unions and others, are giving voice to a growing emphasis among the population on climate and environment, especially amongst youngsters. Therefore, some parties have argued for changing the legal voting age from 18 to 16 to give youngsters more possibilities of voting according to their future interests. So far, this has not been approved.
But the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the 9th of August has changed the election campaign focus. According to the report, climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible, at least during the present time frame. This has led to climate and nature being the main focus of the political debate.
A direct result of this might be that more youngsters will vote on the 13th of September. At the last Parliamentary elections in 2017, the overall turnout was at an acceptable 78.2 per cent and could be surpassed now. Amongst 18-19 years of age, the turnout was 72.7 per cent.
A wind of change
There is a certain yearning for change after 8 years of conservative rule. Apart from climate, economic inequality and rural issues have been strongly present during the electoral campaign. The labour unions are very clear that they demand a shift in labour policies, and many local communities demand better hospital services, educational facilities and police offices.
This all has to do with a continuous centralization trend, like in many other countries, which could partially reverse this election. In that sense, there is a particular wind of change sweeping over the country. Another critical issue is the new green deal, with new fossil-free energy sources being promoted. The right emphasizes the market forces as the primary mover, whereas the left argues for stronger state intervention.
Basically, the elections in 2021 are a choice between a right-leaning or a left-leaning government. On the right, the Conservative Party (Høyre) is the dominant force, seeking a government alliance with the Liberal Party (Venstre) and the Christian People’s Party (Kristelig Folkeparti), and with parliamentary support by the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet).
On the left, the Labour Party is by far the biggest, seeking a government coalition together with the Center Party (Senterpartiet), the Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti), and with parliamentary support by the Red Party (Rødt) and the Greens (Miljøpartiet de Grønne).
As we head into the final week of campaigning, most polls and election pundits prophesize an election triumph for the left, which means a change of government towards a slightly more state-inclined ideology. Many groups have high expectations of their sector being better supported by state funds and rules and regulations.
Women and strong advertising rules
A vital feature of Norwegian elections is the percentage of female candidates. The present Parliament has a 40,8 per cent female representation, and this will be continued. Another feature is a strong regulatory device prohibiting political advertising on television, unlike countries like the US. This hinders money from being a decisive point and protects the electorate against speculative rhetorical ploys.
There are also strict rules on monetary donations to political parties, which must be transparent and public. When anonymous donors recently gave money to the right-wing block, they all paid back the sums given, as this was going against the rule of play. (Apart from the right-wing party, Fremskrittspartiet, who kept the money).
A new feature in the last 10 years has been the election of more representatives from minority communities. One could, of course, always argue that the process is too slow. But Parliament isn’t as all-white as it used to be, and this time around, new and exciting faces are sure to be elected, giving Norwegian public life more diversity.
The big day
Many dress up, even journalists, on election day as the long wait for the final verdict is awaited. People gather at each other’s homes or with friends or organized groups and watch television to see how it all ends. There is still a celebratory feel to the day and the event. And so it should be, as international studies still deem Norway to be amongst the most democratic countries on earth. Election day is something to be cherished and should never be taken for granted.