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Home* News and Stories → Non-Nor­we­gi­an locals may lose the right to vote

Non-Nor­we­gi­an locals may lose the right to vote

August and Sep­tem­ber have final­ly brought some soul food to the tra­vel blog, which I hope you have enjoy­ed. Now it is time to catch up with some news. Not all of them are good ones, unfort­u­na­te­ly.

For­eign resi­dents of Lon­gye­ar­by­en may lose voting rights

Ear­lier this year, the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment in Oslo has made a pro­po­sal that would lead to the with­dra­wal of voting rights on a com­mu­ni­ty level from non-Nor­we­gi­an locals in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The mat­ter is com­plex; it is based on the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty which puts the Spits­ber­gen islands under Nor­we­gi­an sove­reig­n­ty. Based on that, a Nor­we­gi­an law from 1925 deter­mi­ned that “Sval­bard is part of the King­dom of Nor­way”. But depen­ding on the occa­si­on, Spits­ber­gen is some­ti­mes trea­ted as part of Nor­way and some­ti­mes as a for­eign ter­ri­to­ry by Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties.

Non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens who live in Nor­way usual­ly get the right to vote and to be elec­ted on a com­mu­ni­ty level after 3 years of resi­dence. This is also valid for Lon­gye­ar­by­en sin­ce the­re is an elec­ted com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil the­re (Lokals­ty­re), which was estab­lished in 2002.

Now, ear­lier this year the Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment made a pro­po­sal that ties the right to vote (and to be elec­ted) to a resi­dence peri­od of at least 3 years in a com­mu­ni­ty on the Nor­we­gi­an main­land. Resi­dence in Lon­gye­ar­by­en would not count any­mo­re, accor­ding to this pro­po­sal.

It will not sur­pri­se that this pro­po­sal was most­ly not met with sym­pa­thy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, espe­ci­al­ly among­st tho­se direct­ly con­cer­ned. With­dra­wing voting rights from a signi­fi­cant part of the local popu­la­ti­on does not fit well into a Euro­pean demo­cra­tic con­text.

The chan­ge of govern­ment that fol­lo­wed to the par­lia­men­ta­ry elec­tions in Nor­way in Sep­tem­ber does, so far, not seem to have any con­se­quen­ces for the pro­po­sal, which was dis­cus­sed in Sep­tem­ber in Lon­gye­ar­by­en by local poli­ti­ci­ans during a coun­cil mee­ting.

Longyearbyen voting right

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has an inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on with Nor­we­gi­ans being the lar­gest group. The local coun­cil is domi­na­ted by Nor­we­gi­an dele­ga­tes.

Dele­ga­te of cent­re and right-wing par­ties sto­ke fears

It is remar­kab­le how a dele­ga­te of the right-wing “Frems­kritts­par­ti” (“Pro­gress par­ty”) com­men­ted the mat­ter, as quo­ted by Sval­bard­pos­ten (this author’s trans­la­ti­on): “… peo­p­le who have not been to Nor­way, who do not have rela­ti­ves in Nor­way, who do not have any con­nec­tion to Nor­way, who do not have any par­ti­cu­lar inte­rest in Nor­way, may come to Sval­bard, vote and get elec­ted them­sel­ves. For many it is logi­cal that this should not be so. This is a shame for the good citi­zens that we have here, most of whom are reasonable peo­p­le, but it is a ques­ti­on of secu­ri­ty: we can just not take the risk.”

It is one of many remar­kab­le aspects of this com­ment that the spea­k­er impli­es that Sval­bard is not part of Nor­way. Other­wi­se, resi­dence in Lon­gye­ar­by­en would natu­ral­ly imply a con­nec­tion to Nor­way and an inte­rest in the coun­try.

A dele­ga­te of the par­ty “Høy­re” (“Right”) made a simi­lar state­ment: “We risk that so many for­eig­ners come that the­re may not be a sin­gle Nor­we­gi­an in the coun­cil.”

This fear is by no means reflec­ted by rea­li­ty, neither in the local popu­la­ti­on nor in the com­po­si­ti­on of the coun­cil – even less by the lat­ter, actual­ly, which is stron­gly domi­na­ted by Nor­we­gi­an dele­ga­tes.

Social demo­crats and left dele­ga­tes speak out in a dif­fe­ren­tia­ted way or cri­ti­cal­ly

Mayor Arild Olsen from the social demo­cra­tic Arbei­der­par­ti spo­ke out very cri­ti­cal­ly about the popo­sal, using both prac­ti­cal argu­ments and con­side­ra­ti­ons of demo­cra­tic theo­ry. Dele­ga­tes of the par­ty “Venst­re” (“Left”) made dif­fe­ren­tia­ted comm­ents.

As a result, the coun­cil was not able to come up with a cohe­si­ve state­ment and the issue will be taken up again later. The dead­line for the hea­ring is 25 Octo­ber.



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last modification: 2021-10-06 · copyright: Rolf Stange