Norway PM to step down, Labor leader expected to take over

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — (AP) — Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Tuesday she will step down as head of a three-party, minority center-right government after a left-leaning bloc won last month’s parliamentary election. The leader of Norway’s Labor Party, Jonas Gahr Stoere, is expected to take over later this week.

The 60-year-old Solberg, head of Norway's Conservative Party, was ousted after two four-year terms when her party lost nine seats in the country's Sept. 13 election. She will remain as a caretaker leader until Gahr Stoere has presented a new governing team Thursday for a two-party, center-left coalition.

"Eight years is a long time,” Solberg told reporters after she handed over her letter of resignation to the country’s figurehead monarch, King Harald, as required by the Constitution. “He accepted it and I urged him to ask Jonas Gahr Stoere to form a government.”

In Norway, an outgoing prime minister only announces his or her departure when another party leader is ready to form a new Cabinet.

In 2013, Solberg became Norway’s second female prime minister. She first headed a two-party minority government with the anti-immigration Progress Party. It was twice enlarged — first in 2018 with the Liberal Party and a year later with the small Christian Democratic Party and then became a majority government.

However, in January 2020, the populist Progress Party pulled out of the coalition, leaving Solberg to lead a three-party, minority government with her own Conservatives, the centrist Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats.

Gahr Stoere, 61, is poised to head a government with the euroskeptic Center Party, Norway’s third largest, which is expected to seek a majority in the 169-seat Stortinget. He is expected to outline the coalition's political platform on Wednesday and the Cabinet's lineup the following day.

The discovery of oil and gas in Norway’s waters in the 1960s turned the Scandinavian nation into one of the richest countries in the world, with a strong welfare system and a high living standard. It is not a member of the European Union but trades closely with the 27-nation bloc.

Norway's oil wealth helped it withstand Europe’s financial crisis and retain low unemployment. The oil industry is the country’s biggest industry, responsible for over 40% of exports and directly employs more than 5% of the workforce.