chapter  5
17 Pages

Minority representation in Norway: Success at the local level; failure at the national level


Introduction This chapter is about the political representation of minorities or non-Western immigrants in Norway.1 This group has generally been successful in gaining political positions at the local political level, especially in municipalities where a sizeable part of the population has minority backgrounds. At the national level, in terms of representation in the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, there are just a few examples of successful minority politicians. This chapter aims to explain this difference, and the conditions underlying successful minority representation. While most previous studies of Nordic minority representation have focused exclusively at the local level (Bäck and Soininen 1998; Bjørklund and Bergh 2005; Rogstad 2007; Togeby 2003), our aim is to analyse and explain the differing rates of representation at the local and national levels. The introductory chapter to this volume noted four main approaches to explaining minority representation: ethnic approaches, class-based approaches, approaches based on social capital, and institutional approaches. By analysing representation at two levels in a single country, we find no variation in ethnic or class structure, or in social capital. That leaves the institutional approach to explaining minority representation. There are notable institutional differences between local-level and nationallevel elections, which will be the focus of our analyses. Norway, like all other Western European countries, has experienced a change in the composition of its population over the past few decades. While the Scandinavian countries in general, and in Norway in particular, are often regarded as classic examples of homogenous societies, this characterization should no longer be seen as valid. The rates of immigration to Norway, and the size of the immigrant population in Norway today, are comparable to those of other European countries. In a comparative study of 28 OECD countries, the average size of the foreign-born population in 2003 was found to be 7.8 per cent (Dumont and Lemaitre 2005). The report rated Norway slightly below that average, at 7.3 per cent. The average non-Western foreign-born population in the 28 OECD countries was 4.4 per cent; the corresponding Norwegian figure was 3.5 per cent. Although Norway at first glance may look like a deviant case in the study of minorities, it is a fairly typical case. That is why we see our analyses of the

successes and failures of minority representation in Norway as relevant to other countries as well. Our findings may even help explain the situation in other countries where failure in minority representation is the general rule at all levels of government. The first issue one encounters when studying immigrants or minorities is the issue of definitions. Our definitions are as follows: first, we look at immigrants with backgrounds in Asia, Africa and Latin-America, but we also include people who were born in Norway, and whose parents immigrated from the third world. The term ‘immigrant’ may be used without any qualifications for the people who have in fact immigrated. Their descendants, sometimes referred to as ‘secondgeneration immigrants’, will in some cases object to the term ‘immigrant’ being used to describe them. We should point out that in the study of Norwegian minority politicians, the vast majority of the people we are studying are themselves immigrants. Out of the 765 minority candidates for seats in municipal councils in the 2007 election, only 39 where born in Norway. Given the fact that there is no such thing as perfect terminology in this field of study, we opt for calling this group ‘non-Western immigrants’. We also use the term ‘minority’ as a synonym. This chapter proceeds with a look at the history of immigration to Norway, and the development of political rights for this group. Next, we look at candidate selection and political representation of minorities at two levels of government: local and national. We then analyse the data on representation, and try to explain the relative success at the local level and corresponding failure at the national level. The final section sums up and discusses the findings.