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.