Norway's leftist gov't wins re-election

OSLO – Norway's left-leaning government narrowly won re-election after using oil money to shield the Nordic welfare state from the global recession, official results showed Tuesday.

Benefiting from a splintered opposition, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's Labor-led coalition became the first Norwegian government to survive an election in 16 years.

With 99.9 percent of votes counted, Stoltenberg's three-party bloc had secured 86 seats to keep a slim majority in the 169-seat Parliament. The opposition won 83 seats, according to the initial count. A final tally was expected later this week.

The 50-year-old prime minister stopped short of declaring victory as the race remained close late Monday, but said "it looks like we can continue" in power.

Opposition leaders conceded they did not win enough votes to oust the government.

"Everything suggests that ... Jens Stoltenberg and Labor have won the election," said Siv Jensen, who heads the right-wing populist Progress Party.

The result means that Norway continues to buck a trend that has seen center-right blocs take power in its Nordic neighbors Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Norway has escaped the financial crisis largely unscathed, partly by tapping into its oil- and gas-fueled sovereign wealth fund — currently valued at more than 2.4 trillion kroner $400 billion. Unemployment stands at 3 percent — among the lowest in Europe.

Oil and gas pumped from North Sea platforms have made the fjord-fringed country of 4.8 million people one of the world's richest nations. But that wealth also presents a challenge for sitting governments, who must balance the risk of overheating the domestic economy with Norwegians' high demands on the cradle-to-grave welfare system.

The last prime minister to win re-election in Norway was Labor's Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1993.

After casting her vote outside Oslo, Jensen blamed Stoltenberg's government for bad roads, crowded asylum centers and long waiting lists for non-emergency treatment at public hospitals.

Oeystein Nordjordet, a construction worker in Oslo, said Labor's policies were the best for Norway. "Because they are the safest. It's Barack Obama politics, it's exactly the same," he said.

Stoltenberg's camp also played on the U.S. president's "Yes, we can" campaign slogan, with buttons and posters saying "Jens we can" in Norwegian.

Labor remained Norway's biggest party, winning 64 seats with 35 percent of the vote, the results showed. Its junior partners, the Socialist Left and the Center Party, each won 11 seats.

The opposition suffered from a split over immigration between the Progress Party and the smaller Liberal party and the Christian Democrats. Jensen's party alienated the two center-right parties with calls for higher demands on immigrants to integrate into Norwegian society and a proposal to build Norwegian asylum centers in Africa.

More than 10 percent of Norway's population is of foreign origin, with large groups of asylum-seekers coming from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

The Progress Party, which has seen support surge in recent years, had its best election ever, grabbing 41 seats with 23 percent of the vote. The Liberals saw the biggest setback, losing eight seats for a total of two.

Associated Press writers Ian MacDougall and Doug Mellgren contributed to this report.

Fashion Week in New York. AP/Louis Lanzano