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Major Setback for Norway's Labor Party - 2001-09-11

Norway's governing Labor Party appears to have suffered its worst election result in nearly a century. Despite the setback, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will try to form a new government.

Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg called it a "bad election." His Labor Party received less than 25 percent of the vote, compared with 35 percent four years ago. The Conservatives finished second with about 21 percent.

That set off a scramble to forge alliances that might unseat the government. The Conservatives gained about 16 seats in the 165-member Norwegian parliament, and a spokesman said he was confident party leader Jan Petersen would be the next prime minister.

Another opposition leader, former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, said the 10 percent drop in Labor Party support is a clear signal from voters that they want a change. Mr. Bondevik is hoping to form a moderate coalition.

But Prime Minister Stoltenberg said he would try to form a coalition that would allow him to stay on, even though the Labor Party's delegation in parliament will be reduced from the current 65 to about 43.

Analysts say voters are sending a message that they are tired of high taxes in a country whose oil exports have made it one of the world's richest. Opposition parties had called for using some of the oil revenue to reduce the tax burden and improve health care and other public services.

The editor of one of Oslo's leading business publications predicted a long-term rise in stock prices, which had fallen Monday to their lowest levels in nearly two years on worries that there would be another majority on the left.

In the short term, however, stock prices could suffer as competing parties haggle over who will lead the next Norwegian government.

Final election results will be announced Wednesday. After that, it may take weeks to determine the makeup of the ruling coalition.