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POLITICS

Labour Party looks to slash Oslo immigrant dominance

Leading Labour Party politicians in Oslo believe voters have too much influence in the city and are calling for changes to the country's election laws after immigrant candidates snagged eleven of the party’s 20 seats on the City Council.

Labour Party looks to slash Oslo immigrant dominance
Rune Gerhardsen and Libe Rieber-Mohn (Scanpix)

Among those backing legislative change is Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who sits on the board of a local Labour committee that wants parties to be able to present voters with a list of 15 hand-picked candidates.

In accordance with current rules, the party populated its list with ten names in this autumn’s city elections

This left voters with plenty of scope to select their own preferred candidates, enabling seven politicians with immigrant backgrounds to sail into winning positions after managing to secure enough personal votes for a seat.

“We’ve now got three representatives from Somalia and Somaliland. That’s in excess of what one might expect,” party veteran Rune Gerhardsen told newspaper VG.

Gerhardsen stressed that his desire for a rule change did not stem from any sense of dissatisfaction with the current councillors, but he did argue there was a need for greater balance.

“Comparatively small pressure groups can make relatively large gains when they apply enough resources. Ethnic groups have shown themselves to be good at mobilizing,” he said.

Abid Raja from the Liberal Party (Venstre) said he found the comments alarming.

“What he says about his own party colleagues with Somali backgrounds is way beneath his dignity,” Raja told news agency NTB.

“Instead of increasing the number of set candidates we should be going in the opposite direction and getting rid of it altogether.”

Raja pointed out that ethnic Norwegian candidates had also harvested their fair share of personal votes, with Rune Gerhardsen himself the main beneficiary. Of the Labour Party’s candidates, Gerhardsen and Libe Rieber-Mohn attracted the highest number of personal votes, followed by Abdullah Alsabeehg.

The 25-year-old Alsabeehg, whose family came to Norway as political refugees from Bahrain when he was very young, denied his election success had stemmed from a recruitment campaign targeting voters of the same ethnic background as himself.

Instead, he attributed his large personal vote haul to the backing he received from the Labour Party’s youth wing (AUF).

“I was the AUF’s youth candidate in the election and was supported by young people of various ethnic backgrounds from around the city,” he told NTB.

“I think it’s wrong to make a distinction between minority politicians and other politicians. Nobody uses the term minority footballer to describe Moa or Carew,” he added.

Among representatives of Norway’s other main parties, there was no support for the idea of lengthening pre-populated electoral lists.

“I can see that the Labour Party’s City Council group in Oslo is skewed, both from an ethnic and geographical perspective, but that just shows that party democracy is more or less dead within the Labour Party beyond the group of active immigrants,” said Conservative Party (Høyre) MP Per-Kristian Foss to politisk.no.

“That’s a problem for Oslo’s Labour Party; I don’t think parliament should change the election law,” he added.

Anders Anundsen from the Progress Party said Labour would be better advised to move in the exact opposite direction, a view supported by the Centre Party’s Per Olaf Lundteigen.

“Trust in politicians and political parties is dropping. That means voters should be given more of a say as to who gets elected in parliamentary, county, and municipal elections,” he told politisk.no.

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RUSSIA

Norwegian minister says country has ‘good control’ at Russian border

The queue of cars waiting to enter Norway at its northern border with Russia was reported to be long on Sunday, but Oslo said it has no immediate plans to shut the crossing.

Norwegian minister says country has ‘good control’ at Russian border

A total number of 295 people on Sunday entered Norway from Russia at the Storskog border crossing in northern county Finnmark, according to police figures reported by NTB. 174 crossed in the opposite direction.

Russia does not appear to have restricted its citizens from leaving for Norway, though rumours suggest Moscow could move to ban men of mobilisation age from leaving. Finland closed its border to tourists with Russian visas on Friday.

“We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice,” Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said on Friday.

Norway can close its border with a few hours’ notice, according to the minister.

READ ALSO: Norway to boost security along border with Russia

But Mehl said following a meeting with police officials near the border on Sunday that she was satisfied with the current situation and that a complete closure was not immediately on the cards.

“It was a useful meeting. It is important for the government that we have good control of the border with Russia. We are now the only country in the Schengen zone with an open border to Russia. It is extra important for us that we have security around the border station at Storskog and the surrounding areas,” Mehl said to news wire NTB.

The minister stressed that the border would not be closed at the current time.

“Our position is that everyone who wants to apply for asylum in Norway has the right to do so,” she said.

The Storskog crossing on Norway’s almost 200-kilometre (120-mile) far northern border with Russia is now practically the only remaining point of entry into the Schengen area for Russians with tourist visas.

“Finland has restricted who can go there but there are still exceptions in their rules and the border is open for a small number. But it is important that we reassess this continually,” Mehl said.

Norway is not a member of the European Union but is part of the Schengen area, which all but stopped issuing Schengen tourist visas to Russians in May. But Russian holders of visas and residence permits issued by other European countries are able to cross into Norway to transit.

The earlier part of last week saw over 400 people enter Norway from Russia daily, according to NTB, but the number fell to between 100 and 200 in the second half of the week. The news wire reports that Russian nationals it spoke to on the Norwegian side of the border said there are still long queues of people on the Russian side, waiting to enter Norway.

Mehl said that full closure of the border by Norway would be a “drastic” measure.

“We have seen that the numbers have gone a little up and down in Norway but it is nowhere close to the numbers Finland has had,” she said.

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