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VOTING

Norwegian islands lose quarter of voters as foreigners frozen out of local elections

The Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is to lose over a quarter of the its voting base for local elections under new rules preventing foreign nationals from participating.

Norwegian islands lose quarter of voters as foreigners frozen out of local elections
An aerial view of telecommunication domes near Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Photo: Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

The government is set to change voting rules for local elections on Svalbard. Under new rules, non-Norwegian citizens will be required to have lived a Norwegian municipality for three years in order to be eligible to vote in local elections and run for office on the remote Arctic archipelago.

Over 700 of the 2,500 people who live on Svalbard could be affected by the decision, broadcaster NRK reports.

The issue is additionally complicated because people have not lived in a municipality on the Norwegian mainland for three years will not be eligible to vote in the next election under the new rules. Neither will they be able to stand for office.

This is because Svalbard has no status as a county, municipality, or separate constituency. Residents on the archipelago are registered under in the municipality where they lived before moving to Svalbard.

However, Svalbard’s largest town Longyearbyen does have an elected local council which is advisory to local and central authorities.

A member of the local council, Olivia Ericson, criticised the new rules in comments to NRK. Ericson, who is Swedish, will be forced to step down at the next local elections.

“It will be very, very small group which will end up representing everyone,” she said.

“I must admit that this does not come as a surprise. It’s more and more obvious that the government wants to change Svalbard politics. But what do you achieve by shutting people out of the local council,” she said.

The Justice Minister, Emilie Enger Mehl, said that the local council would benefit from connection to the mainland.

“Connection to the mainland always contributes to those who administer society having a good knowledge and understanding of Svalbard’s politics and the factors relevant for Svalbard,” Mehl said in a statement.

Significant funding from mainland Norway is transferred to Svalbard for administration of the archipelago due to lower tax rates there, NRK writes.

Ericson said that time spent on Svalbard should weigh more heavily than time on the mainland.

“A Norwegian person who has lived here for eight months has a much narrower view of Svalbard. I’ve live here for ten years and have a lot more experience to fall back on,” she said.

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VOTING

Norway rejects proposal to reduce voting age

A proposal from Norway’s Liberal (Venstre) Party to give 16-year-olds the right to vote has been rejected by the country’s parliament. 

Norway rejects proposal to reduce voting age

Had it been adopted, the Liberal proposal would have given 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in next year’s local elections.

The proposal had the support of the Red Party, Socialist Left Party, Labour Party and the Green Party.

However, a centre-right majority consisting of the Conservatives, Centre Party, Progress Party and Christian Democratic Party blocked it from moving forward. 

Previously, 16-and-17-year-olds had the right to vote in local elections in a number of municipalities as part of a pilot scheme. That came after an earlier 2013 proposal, also by the Liberals, to reduce the voting age to 16.

“All of these trial projects gave a positive result. We saw a high turnout in this group, they voted ‘normally’ and more young people were elected to local government,” Liberal lawmaker Sveinung Rotevatn, one of the parliamentarians that tabled the proposal, said in parliament according to broadcaster NRK.

A second Liberal representative, Alfred Jens Bjørlo, said it was a “matter of time” before there was majority support for the move.

“I think time is working in favour of this issue,” Bjørlo said.

Arguments put forth by opponents of the proposal include that maturity can vary between different people aged 16 and 17, and that Norway’s voting age and the age of majority (myndigheitsalder  in Norwegian) should be the same.

“We have occasionally had different voting and majority ages. But the voting age has never been lower than the age of majority,” Conservative MP Peter Frølich told NRK.

The leader of the Green Party, Une Bastholm, said that those arguing 16-year-olds were not qualified to vote should prove those claims.

“Democracy is stronger when more people take part in it. In a liberal democracy, those who want to deny others the right to vote bear the burden of proof. We should have a very good reason to deny 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote,” Bastholm said.

Save the Children Norway told NRK that lowering the voting age to 16 was “an important step in supporting the right of children and young people to be heard”.

Everyone who turns 18 by the end of an election year in Norway has the right to vote. Only Norwegian citizens can vote in general elections, while foreigners with permanent residence can head to the ballot box in local ones. 

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