Norway holds elections 2 months after massacre

September 12, 2011 - 9:05 AM
Norway Election

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg puts his ballot in the ballot box at the Uranienborg school polling station in Oslo Sunday September 11, 2011 during the local elections. (AP Photo/Lise Aserud / Scanpix) NORWAY OUT

OSLO, Norway (AP) — Norwegians voted Monday in municipal elections less than two months after a bombing and shooting massacre by a right-wing fanatic killed 77 people in attacks targeting the ruling Labor Party.

Recent polls indicated a tight race between Labor and its traditional rival, the opposition Conservatives. The anti-immigrant, right-wing Progressive Party and the Socialist Left are expected to face losses in the two-day election that began Sunday.

All parties agreed to hold short, low-key campaigns after the July 22 terror attacks rocked the Scandinavian nation, a prosperous and generally tolerant society. Campaigning was postponed until mid-August.

Anti-Muslim extremist Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb outside government offices on July 22, killing eight people, and then slaughtered 69 people at a Labor Party youth camp. The 32-year-old has confessed to the killings but denies criminal responsibility, saying he's in a state of war against Norway's immigration policies.

The local elections — for councils in 430 municipalities and 19 counties — were not expected to have a major impact on government policy in the nation of 5 million nation, which enjoys the benefits of oil wealth, a thriving economy and cradle-to-grave social services.

The head of the Labor party, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, said despite a good campaign focusing on health care and education, the election appeared to be overshadowed by the terror attacks.

"It (the campaign) has also been somewhat unusual because I think everyone has carried July 22 with them," Stoltenberg said after casting his ballot Sunday.

Surveys carried out soon after the attack indicated Labor would win about 40 percent of the vote, reflecting Stoltenberg's handling of the terror crisis — praised by supporters and critics alike — and general sympathy for Labor.

Since then, polls have shown smaller gains for Labor, but still predict it will come out on top and its traditional rival, the Conservative Party, will regain return to being the country's second largest party. The Conservatives were eclipsed by the populist Progressive Party in parliamentary elections two years ago.

In a survey published Monday by the Aftenposten daily, Labor was given 31.1 percent support followed by the Conservative Party with 26.9 percent and the Progressive Party with 15.3 percent.

Pollsters interviewed 1,503 people for the Sept. 3 survey, which had a margin of error of up to 3 percentage points.