Posted on March 9, 2006

Populist Party Tops Poll After Cartoon Row

Expatica, March 8, 2006

A populist right-wing political party has topped an opinion poll in Norway a month after Muslims angered by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad burnt Norwegian flags and embassies in the Middle East.

The Progress party, which wants tighter immigration laws and blames immigrants for much of the nation’s crime, has condemned Muslim extremists and urged Norway’s Labour-led government to stand up more strongly for freedom of speech.

The survey in the Bergens Tidende newspaper yesterday showed support for Progress rising to 31.8 per cent, above Labour on 28.7. Progress came second in the last parliamentary election in September, with 22.1 per cent to Labour’s 32.7 per cent.

“There is a long time until the election, therefore we have to take this with a pinch of salt,” Progress’ Siv Jensen told the newspaper. She will take over as leader before the next election in 2009.

The poll backs up an earlier survey that put Progress on almost the same level of support as Labour, which heads a three-party coalition.

A Norwegian newspaper was one of the first publications outside Denmark to publish the cartoons that Muslims consider blasphemous.

Progress has said the Norwegian newspaper editor should not apologise for the cartoons and should be able to print what he sees fit in the name of free speech.

The Labour-led government has been more cautious, expressing regret for offence caused by the cartoons while saying Norway defends free speech.

Support for the Progress party has once before eclipsed support for Labour, Norway’s dominant party in the 20th century. In September 2000 it registered roughly 30 per cent in opinion polls ahead of Labour.