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UPDATE 1-Norwegians vote in closely contested parliamentary election
September 10, 2017 / 2:40 PM / in 3 months

UPDATE 1-Norwegians vote in closely contested parliamentary election

* Centre-right bloc neck and neck with centre-left

* Taxes, public services, oil industry in focus

* Voting ends on Monday at 1900 GMT

* Election graphic tmsnrt.rs/2wYkVIO (Adds voters, PM, opposition leader, bullets)

By Lefteris Karagiannopoulos

OSLO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Norwegians voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election whose outcome is too close to call, with opinion polls showing Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s centre-right government and the opposition centre-left bloc running neck and neck.

Solberg’s Conservatives want to cut taxes if they win a fresh four-year mandate, while the centre-left led by Labour’s Jonas Gahr Stoere seeks tax hikes to fund better public services.

The outcome could also impact Norway’s vital oil industry because to form a government either Solberg or Gahr Stoere is likely to depend on one or more parties that seek to impose limits on exploration in Arctic waters off Norway’s northern coast.

Polling stretches over two days, ending at 1900 GMT on Monday.

“I don’t want to change the current government. For me the most important is the tax reform policies,” said Kjell Solli, 47, a real estate agent who cast his ballot for the right-wing Progress Party, a junior member of Solberg’s coalition.

ECONOMY RECOVERING

For much of the year, Labour and its centre-left allies were ahead in the polls and were favoured to win a comfortable victory, but support for the government has risen as the economy has gradually recovered from a two-year slump.

Opinion polls in September on average have given Solberg’s four-party bloc 85 seats in the 169-member parliament, just enough for a majority, while Labour and the centre-left are expected to secure 84 seats.

Erik Mathiassen, 61, a senior adviser at the Oslo city council, said he hoped Gahr Stoere would manage to oust Solberg.

“The most important for me is education policies matter most for me. I want more extensive policy from the government to support the unemployed... I don’t want the current government to stay in power,” he told Reuters.

Gahr Stoere, who comes from a wealthy background, has vowed to raise taxes on Norwegians on above-average incomes.

Casting his ballot in a quiet neighbourhood of western Oslo, the Labour leader expressed confidence his party could stage a late rally to clinch the election.

“We have to keep the qualities of Norway at its best - equity, work for all, good investment in health and education so that we remain a strong team,” Gahr Stoere told reporters.

“What is Norway at its best? It’s when we pull together ... We need a change now because we are growing apart from each other and that is not how Norway can perform at its best.”

Solberg is expected to cast her ballot on Monday.

The election winner will face tricky coalition negotiations and will have to meet tough demands from smaller parties to keep their support over the next four years.

The independent Greens want to end all oil exploration, citing concerns over climate change and pollution, while other smaller parties that may be involved in coalition talks also want to limit the award of new exploration acreage in Arctic waters.

The oil and gas industry accounts for almost half of Norway’s export revenues.

Additional reporting by Alister Doyle; Writing by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Gareth Jones

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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