Norway Anti-Immigration Opposition Party Wins Support

Marianne Stigset and Meera Bhatia, Bloomberg, March 27, 2009

Support for Norway’s Progress Party rose this month, with one pollster ranking it the country’s biggest political group, as voters backed its anti-immigration stance less than six months before parliamentary elections.

While governments in other parts of Europe lose support as voters condemn their handling of the financial crisis, Norway’s Labor government is struggling in polls after it tried to push through laws banning blasphemy and allowing police women to wear the hijab. The laws were withdrawn after a public outcry. Justice Minister Knut Storberget, whose ministry issued the proposals, has since gone on sick leave.

“People are losing their jobs, the economy seems to be going into recession but people are focusing on these issues instead,” said Torkel Brekke, professor of culture studies and oriental languages at the University of Oslo. “It tells you how important issues of identity are to small European countries and how people feel insecure about immigration.”

The Progress Party has support from 27.9 percent of voters in a Norstat poll published in the Vaart Land newspaper today, compared with 22.1 percent in the 2005 election. Backing for the ruling Labor Party fell to 31.7 percent from 32.8 percent in 2005. The poll, which had a margin of error of 2-3 points, was conducted March 17-22 and based on interviews with 1,000 people.

A survey by Opinion, published by news Web site Hegnar on March 18, gave the Progress Party a backing of 30.9 percent after gaining 6.4 percent in March, making it the country’s largest party.

‘Radical Islam’

The government of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in February had to retract a proposal to restrict verbal and written attacks on individuals based on their religious or spiritual beliefs. The law would have “done the bidding of radical Islamic states” such as Iran, Progress Party Chairman Siv Jensen has said. Jensen has warned Norway is in danger of “sneak-Islamization.”

Muslims account for 1.8 percent of Norway’s population of 4.8 million, where citizens enjoy the world’s second-highest gross domestic product per capita, according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book. That compares with 3.7 percent in Germany and as many as 10 percent in France, the CIA estimates.

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No Such Threat

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The Progress Party’s popularity rose because it’s “had the clearest stance on these policies and has credibility in this regard,” Jensen said in an interview. “The government has been marked by so much mess and chaos recently. Kolberg’s comments have revealed the disagreements within the Labor Party.”

A poll conducted by InFact for Verdens Gang this month showed that 51 percent of Norwegians believed radical Islam to be a problem in Norway, with 26 percent saying it constituted a significant terror threat.

‘Completely Off Track’

“I vote for the Progress Party because of their policies on transport, elderly care and not least immigration, as the current policy has veered completely off track,” said Anita Marie Dahl Solheim, a port document controller from Sandefjord southern Norway. Immigrants “generally do whatever they want and nobody ever puts their foot down.”

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While the party’s surge forward in the polls is mainly due to its stance on immigration, Jensen says the financial crisis has also helped them gain popularity. The economy of the world’s fifth-biggest oil exporter will contract 1.7 percent this year sending unemployment up to 4.7 percent by 2010, compared with a jobless rate of 1.5 percent in the middle of last year, according to the government statistics agency.

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