Making good on his campaign undertaking, the Prime Minister, Thorbjoern Jagland, said that his minority Labour government would step down next month because voters failed to give him the mandate he demanded.
With 97.6 per cent of the vote counted, Labour was the leading party, but its 35.1 per cent was under Mr Jagland's declared minimum of 36.9 per cent - the same as Labour got in the last elections four years ago. The final votes are to be counted today. Labour will have 65 of the 165 seats in parliament.
"I assume the other parties that, during the campaign, said they wanted to form a new government will in fact keep their word," said Mr Jagland when announcing his government would step down after presenting a national budget draft on 13 October.
Apart from Labour's defeat, Norway's traditional political calm was shattered by the stunning success of the far-right Progress Party, which won 15.3 per cent of the vote and 25 seats in parliament - more than double the 6.3 per cent the party got in 1993.
The Progress Party, a neo-Thatcherite grouping led by charismatic former businessman Carl Hagen, gathered the protest votes of Norwegians who feel their massive oil wealth is being poured into the wrong pockets. The Labour government has launched a Petroleum Fund to mop up the billions of oil dollars flooding into the economy, but opinion polls showed Norwegians felt their health and welfare services and schools were suffering.
Even though it becomes the country's second-largest party, Progress is not likely to be invited to join any government. Other parties consider its policies intolerable - especially those calling for tighter immigration and refugee policy.
The next prime minister looks set to be Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former priest and ex-foreign minister who is the head of a three-party centrist coalition that can garner 42 seats. He began the process of trying to put together a coalition government yesterday, though he has a breathing space until mid-October.
"We have confirmed what is most important, that there is a will among all three centrist parties to offer an alternative, and then it will be up to parliament," said Mr Bondevik, after meeting his potential coalition partners.
The political jockeying raises the possibility that none of the small parties will be able to muster enough support for a government and that Labour would return to power. AgenciesReuse content