Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has conceded defeat in Norway's parliamentary elections, resigning after it became clear that his center-right coalition had been defeated by a three-party red-green alliance.
Labor leader Jens Stoltenberg is set to shift Norway to the left
With Labor Party leader Jens Stoltenberg -- who already served as Prime Minister between 2000-2001 -- now expected to head a center-left government, his supporters began celebrating Monday evening when initial exit polls predicted their win.
The opposition, comprising Labor, the Socialist Left Party and the agrarian Center Party, appears to have won a combined 88 of the 169 seats in parliament, thereby winning the absolute majority it insisted was needed to form a new government.
"We promised an absolute majority and that's what we're going to give the country," Labor leader Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
Although Norway already has one of the best welfare systems in the world, Stoltenberg believes it can be improved, announcing Tuesday that "Norway can do better" and accusing Bondevik of "betraying Nordic traditions of equality."
A close call
The Norwegians went to the polls Monday in a general election that was so close even the experts were unwilling to forecast the result. ´
Nearly 76 percent of 3.4 million eligible voters cast their votes in what was seen as the tightest election for years, and which remained a cliffhanger up until the very end.
Opinion polls swung dramatically back and forth between the right and the left, in a campaign that focused heavily on the distribution of Norway's abundant oil wealth.
Bondevik believed his trump card was the country's robust economic health during his government's four years in power, and he was confidently expecting his tax-cutting campaign policies would help him retain power and continue a course which has led to low unemployment, low interest rates and low inflation.
But he conceded defeat after nearly all votes in Monday's parliamentary election had been counted, giving the leftist opposition an absolute majority. His own Christian Democrats suffered humiliating losses, landing only 11 projected seats in parliament, down from 22 seats in 2001, according to projections.
World's third largest oil exporter
The leftist opposition, which has presented a united front for the first time, attacked Bondevik's tax cuts for the wealthy, and proposed instead more spending on education, healthcare and welfare.
Stoltenberg pledged that a coalition with the Socialist Left and the Center Party would spend more North Sea oil revenues on social welfare. Norway, the world's third largest oil exporter, has a huge income from North Sea oil and gas -- and the Labor party insists this money could be "used better."
The center-right government had countered that Stoltenberg's promises would destroy jobs and drive interest rates higher in the Scandinavian country.
Balancing coalition demands
But before Stoltenberg can begin to implement his new initiatives, he will have to organize a joint platform for his coalition partners -- and balancing their demands may be a tough challenge.
Stoltenberg with Kristin Halvorsen (left), leader of the Socialist left Party and and Aslaug Haga (right), leader of the Center Party
As the left creates Norway's first absolute majority in 20 years, it faces towering challenges as it attempts to flesh out policies that all three parties can sign onto.
While the three parties agree on many domestic policy goals, like a more equal division of Norway's wealth, they hardly see eye-to-eye when it comes to foreign politics.
The Socialist Left Party wants a six hour working day and more child care, and has come out in favor of buying back shares from partially privatized former state monopolies, like Statoil. It's also heavily critical of the United States, who it sees as "the biggest threat to world peace."
The party opposes building gas power plants and allowing oil freighters to traffic the Barents Sea in the north, due, it claims, to pollution risks, something that could jeopardize Labor-supported economic policies.
And although the Labor Party is keen to take Norway into the European Union, Stoltenberg is unlikely to push for this whilst he is in power. Most Norwegians are against membership, as is the Center Party.