OSLO, Norway (AP) — Norwegians cast ballots Monday in a parliamentary election that could see the power in the oil-rich nation shift for the first time since 2005 to a center-right coalition, including an anti-immigration party.
Despite Norway's strong economy and low unemployment, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's center-left coalition has been trailing in opinion polls for months. The Conservative Party, headed by Erna Solberg, has seen a surge in support amid pledges to increase the availability of private health care and cut taxes on assets over $140,000.
As she voted in the morning, Solberg told reporters she had "been working for four years, intensively to build a wider and stronger platform for the Conservative Party."
The conservatives have said, for the first time, that they are prepared to form a coalition government with the anti-immigration Progress Party, which appears to have lost support since 2009 but is still the third largest party in Norway. It may also seek the support of the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats.
The discovery of oil and gas in Norway's waters in the 1960s turned the Scandinavian nation into one of the richest in the world, with a strong welfare system and a high living standard. The oil helped Norway withstand Europe's financial crisis and has allowed it to create an investment fund for the country's future that is now worth around $750 billion.
One political expert said Stoltenberg's main challenge Monday was simply that he had been in power for so long.
"I call it government fatigue. The Labor coalition has been in power for eight years and one would expect that some voters now think it is time for a change," said Frank Aarebrot, professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen.
This is the first parliamentary election since Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in 2011. Thirty-three survivors of the massacre on Utoya island, mostly teen members of the Labor Party youth wing, are seeking national office in the election.
Stoltenberg was admired for his calm demeanor after the 2011 terror acts and there was a short-lived boost in support for his Labor Party. But last year a report criticizing Norwegian police for a litany of institutional failures before and during the attacks dented his government's prestige.
Malin Rising reported from Stockholm. Associated Press television producer David MacDougall contributed to this report.