- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

OSLO — A leftist Red-Green alliance stormed to power yesterday as Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s center-right governing coalition conceded defeat in a close vote.

Norwegians opted for the opposition platform that called for more spending of the Nordic nation’s vast oil wealth on social welfare programs, rejecting Mr. Bondevik’s call for tax cuts.

Labor Party leader Jens Stoltenberg, 46, returns to his former post as prime minister with the vote. His center-left alliance, including the Socialist Left and the Center Party, claimed at least 88 seats to the rightists’ 81 seats in the 169-member parliament with 93 percent of the votes counted.

“Personally, I am disappointed that [the government] has not been allowed to continue,” said the 58-year-old Mr. Bondevik late last night.

Mr. Bondevik, a Christian Democrat who has led a three-party coalition government since 2001, had campaigned on promises of further reducing taxes while improving health care and education. Mr. Stoltenberg has ruled out tax cuts and called for more welfare spending.

The government has presided over four years of unprecedented prosperity in the country of 4.6 million, and the nation’s wealth has been boosted by a windfall from record-high oil prices.

Debate has raged over how to use the oil income, with the far-right populist Party of Progress saying Norway should tap into the $192 billion fund where it invests surplus oil revenue. Offshore oil platforms have made Norway the world’s third-largest oil exporter, after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

European Union membership, which Norwegian voters rejected in 1994, has not been an issue. Surveys earlier this year showed Norwegians were warming up to joining the union, but opposition increased after French and Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution.

The race was fiercely contested, with two polls published before early voting began in a few districts Sunday giving the opposition bloc, the Red-Green alliance, a majority in parliament. Another, however, predicted Mr. Bondevik’s coalition would control the assembly.

In Oslo, Kari Murberg Martinsen, 42, said she voted for the opposition.

“I am concerned about children and education and think we owe the elderly decent treatment,” she said.

Even if the center-right parties had won a majority, Mr. Bondevik faced rumblings in his own ranks as Party of Progress leader Carl I. Hagen has said he would not accept Mr. Bondevik as prime minister.

Mr. Bondevik’s minority government of Conservatives, Christian Democrats and Liberals took power four years ago with the support of Mr. Hagen’s party, but refused to give it Cabinet posts or any other formal alliance, partly because of its anti-immigration stance.

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