The 8. and 9. September there was an election in Norway. For the political parties election equals exams. A four year term and intensive campaigns determine the winners and the losers. The leader of the parties who form government are victorious and their status as party leader will never be safer. For the parties that must end their term in government the future looks very different. Somewhere wrong decisions were taken, the party suffers and someone must pay.
In large democratic countries the leader of any political party that does poorly in an election has to step down as leader. It works in the same way as a large company. Insecurity leads to falling stock prizes and change in leadership is needed to satisfy the stockholders trust. In the Norwegian election, the three parties that constitute today's government all did poorly last election and it is therefor expected that the leaders of these parties have to step down from the peak of power. This does not happen in Norway.
The three parties in government had the following election results: The socialists party lost 4 mandates in Parliament. The labor party lost 9. The center party lost 1. All together these loses resulted in defeat and an expected change in government. Soon after the defeat it became clear that the leaders of these parties would not step down. They still have to wait for a vote of confidence at the party conventions later this fall, but it is not likely that the leaders will get a vote for non-confidence. This means that even if the leaders do poorly their political careers seems to remain secure.
Is this a characteristic of power hungry politicians or a characteristic of a political party system that favors the existing leadership?
Both. Any leader wishes to stay in power if it is possible. Once a leader steps down a return becomes much harder. To challenge a new leader that does well is more challenging than to ride through the hard times. To step down once the going gets tough and to take over once back on top is a personal characteristic that is not sought after.
The characteristic of the party system also favors the leaders in charge. There is no real build in competition within the parties to take over leadership. Whether no one wants to take over at a negative trend or no own has the backing to compete for the political leadership is hard to determine from the outside. In a period of trouble, a challenging leader has the favorable position of confronting a colleges that has already showed incompetence in an election. This window of opportunity rarely brings new leaderships.
Anyway one of these suggestions come from the same problematic facts. The political parties, independent of their votes in national elections, do not have enough members to make up a healthy party base of members active in the party. A large enough base is important to recruit new leaders, but also to give the up and coming leaders support against the existing leadership of the party. The leadership, known in Norway as the 'party whip', creates a culture among the party members that does not challenge the existing party leadership. Today, it is frowned upon for party members to change parties and to fall from grace with the party leadership can therefor end careers. This way, without a large and healthy base, the leaders are relatively safe from competition within the party. This makes a vote of non-confidence an act without real meaning. For a vote of non-confidence to result in change of leadership the mistrust must be without prior comparisons. This party system is conservative in nature. It favors an old and tried out leadership to any new and challenging. The leaderships have in this way protected their positions and remain relatively safe as long as their electorates vote them into parliament.
To read more about the Norwegian election: (in Norwegian only)