Norwegian poll verdict spares US a strategic embarrassment

the election of the first right-wing government in Norway in 10 years effectively puts an end to the NATO nation's efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Nordic area, which have been a source of severe embarrassment to the United States.

Conservative leader Kare Willoch, who will head the new government, is known to favor a much tougher line than that of his predecessor, Gro Harlem Brundtland , toward the Soviet Union, with which Norway shares a northern border.

Mrs. Brundtland's foreign minister, Knut Frydenlund, was rapped over the knuckles in Washington earlier this year on the zone issue.

Meanwhile, all this time of writing, Mr. Willoch was still negotiating with the other rightist parties on the exact shape his coalitiol government will take. It could be another month before the talks reach fruition.

Willoch has also said he is willing to form a minority Conservative government, if necessary.

But whatever the shape of the new government, Norway has said a decisive "no" to continued socialism.

Even the obvious personal appeal of Mrs. Brundtland failed to stop what -- in Norwegian terms -- amounted to a landslide drift to the right.

The final result gave the rightist parties 80 seats in parliament (the Storting) against 69 for Labor. Willoch's own Conservative Party won 54 seats, a gain of 13. Of his key partners in a coalition, the Christian Democrats won 15 seats and the Center Party 11.

One disturbing trend in the election was the completely unexpected success of the extreme right Progressive Party, which won four seats, its first-ever in the Storting.

Another was the polarization of Norwegian politics into a straight two-party struggle. The middle-of-the-road parties all lost ground in the swing to the right.

Against this dominant trend the left-wing Left Socialist Party gained two extra seats, giving its four members in the new parliament.

And oddly enough, Brundtland's reputation is, if anything, enhanced as a result of the election. Most observers here feel that without her, Labor's defeat would have reached disastrous proportions. The general feeling is that she simply did not have enough time since taking over the party in February to stop the rot.

Economist Willoch was playing his cards remarkably close to his chest following his triumph in giving his party its greatest success since the 1920s.

Although reckoned to be an invincible opponent in debate in the Storting, he is very shy publicly and at times seemed almost embarrassed by the magnitude of what he had achieved.

Having won, he wasted no time in victory celebrations and began immediately to quietly work out permutations on possible governments with all the excitement of someone deciding which breakfast cereal to eat.

He promised Norwegians a lot during his election campaign, much of it bearing distinct echoes of last year's US election: Less interference by government in people's lives, cutbacks in public spending, and reductions in taxation.

He also promised to denationalize part of the offshore oil industry and break the state broadcasting monopoly to bring in commercial television.

Translating all this into policies will be more difficult. But Willoch, an ultra-cool strategist, sat in his office Tuesday already working on the case, the bouquets that had greeted his victory pushed to one side. There was no place for euphoria that day in the pale light of Norway's new dawn.

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