URGENT Willoch Government Toppled in Vote of Confidence
OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Prime Minister Kaare Willoch’s minority government collapsed early Wednesday after losing a vote of confidence 79-78 in Norway’s parliament. It was the first Norwegian government to fall from power outside elections in 23 years.
After a 13-hour debate in the 157-seat Storting, the major opposition Labor Party and the Socialist Left Party joined with the two-vote Progress Party against Willoch and his coalition government.
The balding 57-year-old premier said he would recommend King Olav V ask main opposition leader Gro Harlem Brundtland, 47, to form a new government. She leads the Labor Party and was toppled as prime minister by Willoch in 1981. His coalition was re-elected last September.
King Olav, 82, is in Sweden to attend King Carl Gustav’s 40th birthday party. Negotiations for a new government will not start until the king returns to Oslo Friday.
In the meantime, Willoch’s three-party coalition, including his Conservative Party, the Christian Democrats and the agrarian Center Party, will continue as caretakers.
Willoch had asked for the vote of confidence on introduction of a proposed gas tax equivalent to 21 cents per gallon to help Norway out of the economic doldrums caused by the drop in oil prices since last December. Norway is one of the world’s leading independent oil producers.
Willoch made the demand after the opposition refused to side with the government on austerity measures. The opposition favored increased taxes on the well-to-do, not a gas tax that would affect all social classes.
″The Labor Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Progress Party are using their (joint) majority to make the government’s tasks unsolvable,″ Willoch said at the emergency evening session.
″A minority government, which finds that the parliamentary majority of opposition parties makes it impossible to fulfill its duties, has only one thing to do: It must resign,″ he said.
The three coalition parties hold a 78-77 majority in the Storting. But the anti-tax Progress Party, with two balance votes, said it could not support the gas tax, and therefore cast its swing votes against the non-socialist parties that form the government.
Progress Party leader Carl I. Hagen indicated after the vote that his party’s action was directed mainly at the tax, not at Willoch’s government: ″As long as there is a non-socialist majority in this hall, I can’t see why the rule should voluntarily be handed over to the socialist camp,″
Hagen had urged Willoch in a five-hour morning session to ″think hard before asking for a vote of confidence.″
″If Willoch really asks for a vote of confidence, I’ll interprete it as a wish to resign,″ Hagen said.
The debate developed into a full-scale political squabble marked by mutual accusations of lack of intent to solve the country’s economic problems.
″Political suicide can’t be prevented by others than the suicide candidate himself,″ charged Kjell Magne Fredheim of the Labor Party. He accused Willoch of arrogance for refusing to accept economic compromises and increase the income tax of highly-paid individuals.
″We are simply facing a prime minister who does not want to rule any longer,″ claimed Arent M. Henriksen, of the opposition Socialist Left Party.