Political Science Norway1

Published on May 6th, 2013


Norway’s Political Institutions – An Overview

By Tor G. Jakobsen

Norway is a constitutional monarchy (i.e., the king is the head of state) with a parliamentary system where the executive power is dependent on the direct or indirect support of the legislature (Stortinget). The constitution grants executive powers to the king, but these rights are exercised by the cabinet (executive). Norway follows Montesquieu’s seperation of powers, in the legislative, executive and judicial power. The judicial power in Norway consists of the courts and the Supreme Court.

From 1396 to 1814 Norway was in an unequal union with Denmark, with the decision making taking place in Copenhagen. Following the Napoleonic wars Norway was transferred into a looser union with Sweden. Norway gained political independence (apart from matters of foreign affairs).

The Norwegian constitution was adopted on May 17th, 1814. It is the constitution day that Norwegians celebrate every 17th of May. The Storting (parliament) was first constituted in 1814.

The union with Sweden was peacefully dissolved in 1905, when Sweden recognized Norwegian independence, and the Norwegians chose for Norway to become a monarchy. In 1919 the Storting changed the election law from a majority system to proportional representation. This affected the party composition in parliament.


Stortinget (Parliament)

Its members are elected every fourth year. A majority of the Storting can at any time vote the sitting government out of office (i.e., the government must have the backing of the Storting to be able to govern).

There are 169 seats in parliament selected from 19 constituencies (identical to the 19 counties of Norway), including 19 seats that are used to adjust, so that nationally underrepresented parties get these. Only parties with a minimum of 4 percent of the national vote may compete for these 19seats.

The election system is roughly proportional. There are some adjustments in favour of smaller counties and large parties. The representatives are to a very high degree bound by their party groups. MPs usually vote with their party.


Composition of present day Storting (169 MPs)



% of votes


% of seats

Norwegian Labor Party





Progress Party





Conservative Party





Socialist Left Party





Christian Democratic Party





Center Party





Liberal Party






The Government (executive)

The government is composed of 20 ministers and is led by the prime ministers. Today’s government is a coalition between the Labor Party, Socialist Left Party, and the Center Party. The prime minister is Jens Stoltenberg (Labor). The government is head of the civil service, and can appoint people to the bureaucracy. The government also presents budget to the parliament every October, and prepares proposals for new laws. The Government is appointed by the king. There are three ways for the government to leave office: a) defeat in election b) parties leaving a governing coalition; or c) a vote of no confidence by the parliament.


List of Norwegian post-war governments

Year Prime minister Party/parties
1945-1945 Einar Gerhardsen All parties
1945-1951 Einar Gerhardsen Labor
1951-1955 Oscar Torp Labor
1955-1963 Einar Gerhardsen Labor
1963-1963 John Lyng Conservative, Center, Liberal, Christian
1963-1965 Einar Gerhardsen Labor
1965-1971 Per Borten Center, Conservative, Liberal, Christian
1971-1972 Trygve Bratteli Labor
1972-1973 Lars Korvald Christian, Center, Liberal
1973-1976 Trygve Bratteli Labor
1976-1981 Odvar Nordli Labor
1981-1981 Gro Harlem Brundtland Labor
1981-1983 Kåre Willoch Conservative
1983-1986 Kåre Willoch Conservative, Christian, Center
1986-1989 Gro Harlem Brundtland Labor
1989-1990 Jan P. Syse Conservative, Christian, Center
1990-1996 Gro Harlem Brundtland Labor
1996-1997 Thorbjørn Jagland Labor
1997-2000 Kjell Magne Bondevik Christian, Center, Liberal
2000-2001 Jens Stoltenberg Labor
2001-2005 Kjell Magne Bondevik Christian, Conservative, Liberal
2005- Jens Stoltenberg Labor, Socialist Left, Center


Civil Cervice

The different departments are the secretariat of the ministers. Departmental work is organized around a moderate hierarchical structure with the minister at the top. Routine work has been delegated to independent agencies called directorates. The citizens of Norway have an instrument outside the courts, where they can complain about “unfair treatment”. This position is called the ombudsman.


Local Government

Norway has a long and strong tradition for local government. Norway is divided into 19 counties, and at the lowest level, into 431 municipalities. The municipalities vary in size and population, from about 300 to more than 480,000 persons. Local government was introduced in the 1837 with the Formannskapsloven (a law pertaining to local government). Today, as in national politics, the political parties play an important role in local politics. There are also county governments, for the 19 counties. In addition, there is the Sami Assembly, which has a symbolic power as the government of the Sami population (an ethnic minority in Norway).


Political Parties

There are seven parties represented in the Storting. These are:

Norwegian Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet): The largest party in Norway. Is a social democratic party, and has been the biggest political force in post war Norway. Prime Minister Stoltenberg belongs to the Labor Party.

Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet): The second largest party in the Storting. It is a liberal-conservative party committed to tax reductions and free market economics.

Conservative Party (Høyre): Is the second oldest party inNorway. It is a conservative party committed to fiscal free market politics.

Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti): Has its origin in anti-NATO forces within the Labor Party. It is a socialist party committed to fighting for a society without class differences and social injustice.

Christian Democratic Party (Kristelig Folkeparti): Is a family friendly party, holding some conservative opinions.

Center Party (Senterpartiet): Is a centrist and agrarian Norwegian party. Its focus is on maintaining decentralized economic development and political decision-making.

Liberal Party (Venstre): Is Norways oldest political party. It is social-liberal and centrist. The Liberal Party is the smallest party represented in the Storting.


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