Norwegian premier faces election with tide against her

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

To leading Swedish politician Olof Palme, Norway is a paradise compared with Sweden. "You have a strong economy, a properly managed economic policy, and a strong government," he told a crowd at a rally in Norway recently to launch Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland's election campaign.

Mr. Palme, leader of Sweden's socialists and the nearest one can get to an international figure in Scandinavian politics, was immediately accused of looking through rose-colored glasses. Norway's inflation this year will probably even out at 17 percent and industrial production is stagnating.

There are considerable doubts that the current price freeze will do much to put matters right.

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And differences within Labor have only been papered over in the months Mrs. Brundtland has held power.

It is against this background that Mrs. Brundtland will be going into a general action Sept. 14.

Her Labor Party is well behind in the opinion polls, adn at the moment it seems most likely that Norway's prime minister after polling day will be Kare Willock, an economist who has cashed in on a general mood of the disenchantment with Mrs Brundtland's socialist policies.

Mrs. Brundtland has done a lot to stop the drift from Labor since she took over the premiership from the ailing Odvar Nordli in February. But as election day draws closer, it looks as though the tide is against her.

She has three weeks left to persuade an estimated 150,000 Norwegians to return to the Labor fold.

Latest polls give Labor and the Socialist Left Party 41.7 percent against 49. 7 percent for the rightist parties.

It should be emphasized, however, that this gap is bound to narrow as polling day nears and that, whatever she is, Mrs. Brundtland is no quitter.

Political observers here say her best chances of staying in office lie more in exploiting doubts as to the rightist parties' ability to form an effective coalition.

Although Willock, leader of the Conservatives, the largest of the opposition parties, would seem to be the obvious leader of a rightist coalition, agreement has still not been reached with the other parties.

The Center Party is putting forward its chairman, Johan Jakobsen, as a candidate for prime minister.

And while the Christian Democrats have named their leader, Kare Kristiansen, as a candidate for the premiership, they have failed to reach agreement with the other two parties on the volatile issue of abortion.

Despite a shaky base, Willock has built up his lead by attacking Labor and playing on Norwegians' feelings that they are missing out on a fair share of their oil riches.

In a picturesque turn of phrase presumably aimed at rural voters, Willock likened Labor's economic policies to "jumping from tussock to tussock in a quagmire."

Willock said: "Whenever the government takes a new jump, they try to make out it is proof of their drive and foresight. But they are just jumping in circles."

He has promised to cut public spending, put a state oil distribution company into private ownersh ip, and institute commercial television.

Mrs. Brundtland accuses him of aiming to dismantle the welfare state. The price freeze has been her main weapon against economic woes.

It would be unwise to underestimate the woman's staying power, but time is very definitely not on her side.

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