Norwegian coalition relies on far right

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The Independent Online

The far-right Progress Party emerged as the silent partner of Norway's new government yesterday, propping up the minority coalition replacing Labour, which suffered its heaviest defeat in 75 years.

Jens Stoltenberg, the outgoing Prime Minister, is expected to be succeeded tomorrow by Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Christian People's Party. This is Mr Bondevik's second attempt at running one of the world's richest countries. In his previous stint, the strain proved too much and the affable teetotaller had to take time off for depression.

This time, Mr Bondevik will be supported by Carl Hagen, the populist firebrand who leads the Progress Party. Mr Hagen commands 26 of parliament's 160 seats. Although his followers will not enter the three-party coalition, which also includes the conservative Right Party and the tiny liberal group, he holds the fate of the new governmentin his hands.

Mr Hagen's priority is to cut taxes and inject more of the oil wealth into the decrepit health service. By a happy coincidence, this is the programme upon which Mr Bondevik's government is now embarking.

Less has been said about another Progress Party issue ­ immigration ­ which Mr Hagen feels threatens the fabric of society. Given his new role, he is likely to receive a sympathetic hearing.