OSLO, Norway (AP) — Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg — nicknamed "Iron Erna" for her tough image — will become Norway's new prime minister, as the leader of a center-right coalition government.
Solberg thanked the voters Monday for a historic victory in the oil-rich Nordic in a parliamentary election that yielded the best result for the conservatives in 28 years.
"The voters had the choice between 12 years of red-green government or a new government with new ideas and new solutions," Solberg said at her party's election night party.
The current prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who has led Norway for eight years, conceded defeat, saying his Labor Party tried "to do what almost no one has done, to win three elections in a row, but it turned out to be tough."
Norway's oil wealth has helped it withstand Europe's financial crisis and retain low unemployment throughout Stoltenberg's eight years in power. Still, the Conservative Party has managed to attract votes amid pledges to increase the availability of private health care and cut taxes on assets over $140,000.
The conservatives have said for the first time that they are prepared to form a coalition government with the anti-immigration Progress Party.
Solberg will now likely begin negotiations to form a government with them, as well as with the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats. According to the preliminary results, she needs the support of all three parties to get a majority government, but could end up running a minority government with the Progress Party with support from the two others, if they refuse to share power with the Progress Party.
"I want a change of government because I am liberal-conservative and believe in more deregulation and private solutions," said Haakon Gloersen, a 25-year-old communications adviser, who voted for the Liberal Party.
Oeyvind Nordli, a 44-year-old salesman, said he voted for the conservatives because he thought it would benefit him personally and because he dislikes the Labor Party's tax policy.
Preliminary results late Monday showed the Conservative Party got 26.9 percent of the votes. Together, the four center-right parties were expected to get 53.8 percent.
The Labor Party appeared set to remain the biggest single party, with 30.8 percent. Still, the party and its two coalition partners, the Socialist Party and the Center Party, have lost support since the last election, getting only 40.6 percent of the votes together in the forecast.
The discovery of oil and gas in Norway's waters in the 1960s turned the Scandinavian nation into one of the richest in the world, with a strong welfare system and a high living standard. The oil has allowed it to create an investment fund for the country's future that is now worth around $750 billion.
One political expert said the reason Stoltenberg struggled to be re-elected for a third term was simply that he had been in power for so long.
"I call it government fatigue. The Labor coalition has been in power for eight years and one would expect that some voters now think it is time for a change," said Frank Aarebrot, professor of comparative politics at the University of Bergen.
This is the first parliamentary election since Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in 2011. Thirty-three survivors of the massacre on Utoya island, mostly teen members of the Labor Party youth wing, were seeking national office in the election.
Stoltenberg was admired for his calm demeanor after the terror acts and there was a short-lived boost in support for his Labor Party. But last year a report criticizing Norwegian police for a litany of institutional failures before and during the attacks dented his government's prestige.
Malin Rising reported from Stockholm. Associated Press television producer David MacDougall contributed to this report.