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Norway waits for results of odd election

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OSLO, Norway — With voters angry about high taxes and deficient public services despite Norway's vast oil wealth, the ruling Labor Party appeared headed for its worst showing in decades in parliamentary elections Monday.

Polls indicated no party would end the day with a majority, and the next 165-seat parliament could be the most fragmented in years.

"I fear an unclear situation," Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labor Party said as he cast his ballot at Oslo's Taasen School in light rain.

"You must go vote to avoid a Conservative government," he said in a last-minute appeal to voters.

The final official tally might not be clear until Wednesday. After that, it could take weeks of political horse-trading to determine which parties — and which politicians — would form a government for the world's second-largest oil exporter.

Three blocs — Labor, the Conservatives and a three-party coalition — all hope to form the next government, though none seems likely to win a majority.

Advance voting in some townships began Sunday, and about 500,000 of the nation's roughly 3.3 million voters had sent in postal ballots.

The main party leaders all predicted a close race, partly because thousands of voters appeared to have remained undecided until the last moment. The minority Labor government appeared headed for its worst election since 1924. Stoltenberg wouldn't indicate whether his government would resign if public support plummets, saying it depends on the makeup of parliament.

Conservatives want to form a new coalition government but don't want to include the far right Party of Progress, and they have no other declared government partners.

Some polls suggest the outcome will be so close that whale hunter Steinar Bastesen — a controversial figure first elected to parliament in 1997 — and his tiny Coast Party could end up with two votes in parliament that could determine the next government.

"I won't come cheap," said Bastesen, who is known for wearing sealskin clothing and grilling whale-burgers.

Norway, with 4.5 million people, enjoys unprecedented prosperity, due largely to revenue from its offshore oil fields. But it keeps the money in a fund that is invested abroad, with Labor arguing that spending the revenues domestically would overheat the economy.

Even though a United Nations report listed Norway as the best country in the world to live in, Norwegians complain of heavy taxes alongside shortcomings in their welfare state, including long waits for free medical care, a lack of nursery schools and retirement homes, and a declining standard of public education.