Local Elections in Svalbard Sparked Protests


Silent protest in front of the voting station in Longyearbyen on October 9, 2023. Photo: Christiane Hübner 

On the day the Venstre party won, some residents held a protest against the new voting rules for non-Norwegian citizens residing in Longyearbyen.

The elections of the local council were held in the capital of Svalbard on October 9th.

The Liberal Party – Venstre won the election with a significant majority of the votes.

The local council consists of 15 members, with Venstre holding the majority of seats. Of the 1,420 eligible voters in Longyearbyen this year, a total of 808 (56.9%) voted, with 353 for Venstre.

However, a third of Longyearbyen's residents were excluded from this latest election due to recently imposed restrictions, causing protests among the local population.

New rules introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2022 have changed the voting rights of non-Norwegian citizens living in Longyearbyen. To vote or stand for election to the local council in Longyearbyen, there is now a requirement for three years of residence in a Norwegian mainland municipality. Previously, anyone who had lived in Svalbard for three years was eligible to vote.

Connection to the mainland helps ensure that those who manage this community at all times have good knowledge and understanding of Svalbard’s policy and the framework that applies to Svalbard, the Ministry explained the change with this statement.

In response to these new rules, activists initiated a so-called silent protest. On voting day, activists displayed silhouettes of human steps outside a voting station on the street.

Each step was placed there by an individual who also wrote a personal message on it. Here are some of them:

‘I have been making your food since 2017’, ‘9 years on the island. Have a Norwegian company with 5 employees’, ‘Local for 15 years - I have voting rights in Trondheim but no longer here!’, ‘19 years on Svalbards. Will rescue you from a snow avalanche’, ‘21 years in Longyearbyen. Elected member of the local council’.

Some see a contradiction not only in the new rule itself but also in the fact that those who used to have voting rights in Svalbard, don’t have them anymore.

Source: The Barents Observer