Populist party enters government in Norway

Populist party enters government in Norway

OSLO - A populist party in favour of tighter immigration controls and sweeping tax cuts on Wednesday entered the government in Norway for the first time, joining conservatives in a right-wing coalition.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, 52, leader of the Conservative Party, unveiled her new cabinet with seven ministerial posts going to the populist Progress Party and 11 to her own movement.

"I consider it to be a good competent government," said Solberg, whose party won 27 per cent of the vote in September elections.

The incoming government will be in a minority, relying on support from two small centre-right parties - the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party - to pass legislation.

The Progress Party, which won 16 per cent of the vote, has been in opposition ever since its formation 40 years ago.

Siv Jensen, the 44-year-old leader, took the government's number two position as finance minister and the party also now controls several heavyweight ministries including justice, energy and transport.

The party's policies in several areas, including immigration, tax and climate change, were previously considered too radical for other Norwegian political parties.

Several years ago Jensen criticised the "creeping Islamisation" of society, but since the massacre of 77 people in 2011 by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik - a former party member who claimed he was fighting against multiculturalism - the party has toned down its anti-immigration statements.

The party condemned the Breivik massacre at the time and has since complained that some international media have made too much of his previous membership.

The party has also repeatedly rejected any links to extreme right or populist movements.

Norwegian daily Aftenposten noted that "none of the most radical members" of the party were given ministerial posts, calling the decision "proof that Siv Jensen is really serious about repositioning" it in a more moderate role.

Historically Progress members are "divided between supporters of a hard line on immigration and advocates of economic liberalism," said Franks Aarebrot, political scientist at the University of Bergen, describing it as a typical populist party.

"It considers tax to be a nuisance," he said.

He said the liberal wing of the party dominates in the new coalition and that "the xenophobic fringe has been left out."

However, the new government is not entirely without controversy.

The Progress Party's newly appointed deputy transport minister Baard Hoksrud was convicted in 2011 for paying for sex abroad - illegal in Norway since 2009.

The new government has already announced some of its main policy aims including tax cuts, Sunday shopping, arming the police and allowing municipalities to ban begging.

The Progress Party has claimed victory in obtaining a harder line on immigration but analysts expect the changes to be minimal.

In line with Norway's gender equality rules the new government has nine male and nine female ministers but none of them have immigrant backgrounds.

Despite attempts by the outgoing left-wing government to reduce public spending, Solberg's government may decide to top up its budget with interest from Norway's massive oil revenues currently worth about US$790 billion (S$983 billion).

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