In an effort to get closer to his people and hear out their concerns, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg apparently spent a Friday afternoon in June driving a cab around Oslo incognito. The stunt was captured on video, and his disguise does not last long. Eventually, his passengers recognize him, and their reactions are predictable: What in the world is the prime minister doing behind the wheel of my cab?
The video of Stoltenberg's stint as a cabbie, which the Norwegian leader posted on Facebook on Sunday, is something of a parody of Scandinavian society. There's the young blonde who just can't get over the fact that she's being driven around by the prime minister. There's the cranky old woman who says that she was just planning to write Stoltenberg a letter -- and how convenient that she can now tell him in person how CEOs make way too much money. A token immigrant makes an appearance. Stoltenberg takes a stab at speaking a bit of Spanish.
It's a clever campaign trick ahead of the country's Sept. 9 election. But what's received less attention in today's coverage is that it's also a flash of political desperation. Have a look:
Several media accounts of Stoltenberg's cabbie sojourn have made mention of the fact that his left-leaning Labor Party, or Arbeiderpartiet, the country's leading party for nearly nine decades, is currently trailing in the polls and likely to lose the upcoming elections to a right-wing coalition, which would have dramatic consequences for Norwegian politics. Should Stoltenberg lose, the far-right populist party Fremskrittspartiet -- which translates as the Progress Party -- will in all likelihood serve as part of the coalition government and seat ministers.
For a certain segment of Norwegian society, that result is anathema. The Progress Party once counted Anders Behring Breivik, whose 2011 killing spree left 77 people dead, as a member (it condemned the massacre but nevertheless saw its support plummet in the wake of the mass murder). And the party's politics is deeply rooted in xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Perhaps no one in Norway would be less pleased to see the Progress Party as a member of a coalition government than Stoltenberg. The youth camp that Breivik targeted on the island of Utoya was a long-held Labor Party tradition, and Stoltenberg himself spent his youth there. It was Stoltenberg who appeared before his country in the aftermath of the attack and pleaded with his countrymen to embrace democracy and an open society in the face of that heinous attack.
It's enough to make a man hop behind the wheel of a cab and drive around Oslo, hustling votes.