How 'Iron Erna' wooed Norway with her soft side

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How 'Iron Erna' wooed Norway with her soft side
Erna Solberg - Conservative Party

Tact and firmness are qualities often associated with Erna Solberg, the second woman ever called upon to govern Norway, and she will need both to stay in power.


The big, blonde leader of the Conservative Party emerged a clear winner from Monday's election, likely replacing the centre-left coalition that has ruled since 2005, and the 52-year-old will now have to try to form a workable government with the help of parties stretching from the populist anti-immigration right to the moderate centre.
As Norway marks the centenary of female suffrage, it is almost symbolic that the nation propels a woman to the nation's top political post, following in the footsteps of Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Labour leader who was prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s.
But for Solberg personally, the election victory is the culmination of a career that has been entirely devoted to politics.A native of Bergen, a port city with a long history of international commerce, she entered parliament in 1989 at age 28, after studies in political science and economics.
She has not relinquished her post since then, apart from the period between 2001 and 2005, when she was minister of local government. In that position she was also in charge of immigration, her tough handling of asylum cases earning her the nickname "Iron Erna".
She assumed the Conservative leadership in 2004 and came under pressure to give up the position a year later following poor results in national elections.
Instead she stayed on and reinvented the party with a focus on social issues. "People, not money" was the new motto.
"We understood that our self-image was a little bit different than the image that people had of us," she said later.
She started visiting hospitals, retirement homes and schools more often, at the same time as she held on to the party's fiscal policies, for example a vow to reduce the wealth tax.
She has emphasised that she does not intend to dismantle the generous Norwegian welfare state, but rather to farm out certain public services to private contractors in order to improve efficiency.
"We are a liberal conservative party. We do not make revolutions. That's totally against our ideology," she has said.
Married and with two children, Solberg has broadened the Conservative voter base and made her party, until recently considered a little dusty and stuffy, attractive again.
She has been skillful at playing the role of "the woman next door", this summer inviting journalists to the cozy disorder of her home, complete with  ironing board and booze bottles on the shelves.
But her competitive instincts are never far from the surface, even when she takes a break from her high-pressure political job. Her brief moments of leisure are spent playing Candy Crush, a popular online game.
She will now have to use all her talents to form a coalition encompassing the seemingly incompatible differences of her allies, stretching across the entire right half of the political spectrum.



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