Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Earthquake in Norway

Politics in the Nordic countries is normally a rather slow-moving affair, with political shifts happening gradually and over time rather than very suddenly.

But now it looks like we will be witnessing a minor political earthquake in Norway.

The election last autumn brought to power a leftist coalition government dominated by the Social Democrats but including the Socialist Left Party as well as the very nationalistic Centre Party. Together, they formed a majority government.

But now there is suddenly drama in the opinion polls.

A recent poll - so far the only one - suddenly showed the rightist populist Progress Party, which established itself as the country's second largest in the election, overtaking the Social Democrats and becoming the largest party in Norway at the moment.

With 22% in the election, they now climed to no less than 33%. And the Social Democrats, with 33% in the election, registred 29% support.

Opinion polls are only opinion polls, and the only thing absolutely certain with them is that the next one will be different.

But still...

There seems to be wide agreement that the key reason for this sudden surge of inward-looking populism in Norway is the recent cartoon-crisis in the relations with the Muslim world. The Progress Party has a history of being anti-immigrant.

A secondary factor could be the fact that they are changing party leader - pictured Siv Jensen taking over.

But it is striking that this surge in support for them mirrors developments in more directly affected Denmark, where there has been a significant strengthening of the rightist populist Danish People's Party and a weakening of the opposition Social Democrats.

It's undoubtedly worrying.

Forces of prejudices are storming forward both among us - and most probably in the Muslim world as well.

It's the least that we need at the moment.