My high school teacher told us students that we may not have anything to vote for, but we always have something to vote against. That statement has often been the only reason I have bothered to vote.
In the US it is easy to find who or what to vote against. Most questions there are yes/no: The Democrat candidate? Yes/no. A yes means the Republican candidate gets a “no”. I definitely voted against Jimmy Carter in 1980, and against Sarah Palin in 2008. I have no vested interest in the candidates who got my “yes” since all presidents annoy me (they just do), and since I know that politics – and the presidency – tend to be like farming: Hard to do without producing a pile of manure.
Now, the US does have more than two political parties and they often offer presidential candidates, but due to changes in how the presidential debates are held, you never hear from them.
In Norway, as with most European countries, there are several political parties. Norway has seven that offer the usual gang of idiots in our parliament, and a couple of minor ones that sometimes appear on a national level. There are also strictly local parties, like Bergen’s “The City Air Party”, formed this year specifically to deal with the ever-increasing air pollution that settles on us during winter months when we have high pressure systems and no wind.
My challenge, as a foreign citizen with the right to vote locally, but not nationally, is that I do not have the option of voting against anyone. There is no “against” in a system where the seven parties can form coalitions if no single one of them wins enough votes to rule alone. (Norway’s current national government is a three-party red-green coalition.)
Norwegians hold the idea of “secret ballot” very dear, to the point that no one will tell me exactly how they vote so it’s a bit hard to discuss politics with people outside of family and close friends. I therefore have to figure out who to vote for on my own.
The headache for a girl who likes to keep things simple is to find the party that annoys me the least. And who won’t enter into a coalition with a party that annoys me a lot. I am told by Norwegian friends that this is the correct way to approach Norwegian politics.
My lack of admiration for Bergen’s current right-winged government had me sniffing around the middle where I usually fall politically, but the parties that tend to occupy that space haven’t been impressing me, either. So I read the programs for parties that lean to the left. The one that offered concrete plans for Bergen and Hordaland (our province) in plain Norwegian got my vote. No, not the Labor Party. I am not swayed by this summer’s events here, so no sympathy voting for them.
Norway has managed to avoid the financial crises that have affected the US and the EU. Norwegians themselves have a lot of money to burn, and it’s a materialism I’m not happy to see develope. We’re turning into America, with an attitude that as long as the indiviual can enjoy a cushy lifestyle, who needs a competent government, let alone pay for it.
Inspired by Thatcherism, Norway has fiddled with privatizing certain public services, like home nursing and park services and snow clearing. Some parties want to privatize more. My attitude is that some things should never be run for profit (like schools and hospitals) and some services need to be available to everyone, regardless of income level (like schools and hospitals).
One issue that matters to me as a voter is that, as someone without a car, I want a viable city center and good bus connections to it. Norway loves to emulate the US, and Norwegians have a similar love affair with the car that Americans do. The result is that in a city center that holds half our city’s 250,000 population, there is no place to buy a sofa – with the exception of a few expensive designer boutiques and the Salvation Army. Everything’s been moved to suburban shopping malls. What stores are left in the city center are struggling. I hope for better and greener city planning. Dedicated bike lanes would be nice. I hate being surprised by cyclists on the sidewalk.
Election day this year is September 12, and on that day we raise the flag and our government-run liquor monopoly stores are closed. (Norway in a nutshell, that.) However, we have early voting, so I took my voter’s card to the local library last week and stuffed my envelope with the candidate lists for the almost-communist party. They are one of the coalition parties in our national government and I don’t really like them, but this election year they are the party that annoys me the least.