Populism Takes Root in Norway

Trygve Slagsvold Vedum on Feb. 15 (Photographer: Fredrik Bjerknes/Bloomberg)
Trygve Slagsvold Vedum on Feb. 15 (Photographer: Fredrik Bjerknes/Bloomberg)

During its 96-year-old history, the Center Party has courted both conservatives and progressives while remaining steadfastly opposed to centralization, wolves and foreign cheese.

Now, the political party of choice for Norway’s farmers is riding the populist wave.

In the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the ascendancy of Donald Trump, the Center Party is surging in the polls and aims to play a pivotal role in ousting the Conservative-led minority government in September’s general election.

At stake is Norway’s decades-old relationship with the European Economic Area. The agreement, which grants non-EU members like Norway access to the bloc’s single market, was often cited as a possible model for Britain in connection with Brexit.

“I hope that Brussels sees the need to decentralize more and have more trust in local and nationally elected officials,” party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, 39, said in an interview at his office in Oslo in which he emphasized his party isn’t seeking “drastic change.”

Poll Surge

Still, the man who became the party’s youngest leader (he was 36 when he was appointed) is helping it achieve new heights by casting himself as the spokesman for voters outside Oslo. Born in Hamar, near Lillehammer in eastern Norway, he works as a farmer back home and has been a member of parliament since 2005. He also served as agriculture minister in the previous government.

Opinion polls suggest his Center Party’s anti-centralization, anti-establishment message is resonating with more and more voters, on both the left and right of the political divide.

The party is now polling at more than 9 percent after winning just 10 seats and 5.5 percent in the 2013 election. And with both the ruling Conservative and Progress parties struggling, the surge may well help yield a new governing majority in the fall.

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SOURCE: Sveinung Sleire