Norway - Political background



In 1814, in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, Norway was forced to merge with Sweden, but managed to maintain elements of autonomy. Influenced by the French democratic revolution of 1848, Norway developed its own Parliament, with limited powers, in the late nineteenth century. A strengthening sense of national identity led the Norwegians to negotiate their independence from Sweden in 1905. In that year, Prince Karl of Denmark was chosen as Norway's constitutional monarch, and took the name Haakon VII. His grandson, Harald V, became king in 1991 and reigns today. Norway followed a policy of strict neutrality from 1905 until 1940. In 1940, Germany invaded Norway and carried out an exacting occupation until 1945. The bitter experience of the German occupation shredded the long dominant political sentiment for neutrality, and led Norwegians to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.

Norway is a constitutional monarchy, and the head of state enjoys only limited power. The monarch designates the prime minister, who is the chief of government, but only at the direction of the Storting (Parliament), the unicameral legislature where real power resides. The Storting has 165 seats, split among eight parties in the elections of 2001. Elections are held every four years. Unlike most parliamentary systems, an election is not called if a government loses a vote of confidence, although the prime minister may change.

Due to the large number of parties and a system of proportional representation, coalition governments are the rule in Norwegian politics. Changes of government are a relatively frequent occurrence, even by the standards of European parliamentary systems, because most governments over the past decade have been minority governments. The ability to build consensus is thus a key to success for politicians and for parties. Ideological parties tend, therefore, to be small because they are often exclusive. Women play a greater role in Norwegian politics than in any other European country. For many years, a woman, Gro Harlem Brundtland of the Labor Party, dominated Norwegian politics and served intermittently as prime minister. Kjell Magne Bondevik had nine women in various cabinet positions in his first administration (1997–2000), and there are eight in his current administration, installed after the 2001 election.

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