Norway is considered to be one of the most developed democracies and states of justice in the world. From 1814, c. 45% of men (25 years and older) had the right to vote, whereas the United Kingdom had c. 20% (1832), Sweden c. 5% (1866), and Belgium c. 1.15% (1840). Since 2010, Norway has been classified as the world's most democratic country by the Democracy Index.
According to the Constitution of Norway, which was adopted on 17 May 1814 and inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence and French Revolution of 1776 and 1789, respectively, Norway is a unitary constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government, wherein the King of Norway is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. Power is separated among the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, as defined by the Constitution, which serves as the country's supreme legal document.
The Monarch officially retains executive power. However, following the introduction of a parliamentary system of government, the duties of the Monarch have since become strictly representative and ceremonial, such as the formal appointment and dismissal of the Prime Minister and other ministers in the executive government. Accordingly, the Monarch is commander-in-chief of the Norwegian Armed Forces, and serves as chief diplomatic official abroad and as a symbol of unity. Harald V of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg was crowned King of Norway in 1991, the first since the 14th century who has been born in the country. Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, is the legal and rightful heir to the throne and the Kingdom.
In practice, the Prime Minister exercises the executive powers. Constitutionally, legislative power is vested with both the government and the Parliament of Norway, but the latter is the supreme legislature and a unicameral body. Norway is fundamentally structured as a representative democracy. The Parliament can pass a law by simple majority of the 169 representatives, who are elected on the basis of proportional representation from 19 constituencies for four-year terms.
150 are elected directly from the 19 constituencies, and an additional 19 seats ("levelling seats") are allocated on a nationwide basis to make the representation in parliament correspond better with the popular vote for the political parties. A 4% election threshold is required for a party to gain levelling seats in Parliament. There are a total of 169 Members of Parliament.
The Parliament of Norway, called the Stortinget (meaning Grand Assembly), ratifies national treaties developed by the executive branch. It can impeach members of the government if their acts are declared unconstitutional. If an indicted suspect is impeached, Parliament has the power to remove the person from office.
The position of Prime Minister, Norway's head of government, is allocated to the Member of Parliament who can obtain the confidence of a majority in Parliament, usually the current leader of the largest political party or, more effectively, through a coalition of parties. A single party generally does not have sufficient political power in terms of the number of seats to form a government on its own. Norway has often been ruled by minority governments.
The Prime Minister nominates the Cabinet, traditionally drawn from members of the same political party or parties in the Storting, making up the government. The PM organises the executive government and exercises its power as vested by the Constitution. Reflecting its monarchical past, Norway was established under the Lutheran Church of Norway, and it continues as the state church. To form a government, the PM must have more than half the members of Cabinet be members of the Church of Norway. Currently, this means at least ten out of the 19 ministries. The issue of separation of church and state in Norway has been increasingly controversial, as many people believe it is time to change this, to reflect the growing diversity in the population. A part of this is the evolution of the public school subject Christianity, a required subject since 1739. Even the state's loss in a battle at the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg in 2007 did not settle the matter.
Through the Council of State, a privy council presided over by the Monarch, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet meet at the Royal Palace and formally consult the Monarch. All government bills need the formal approval by the Monarch before and after introduction to Parliament. The Council reviews and approves all of the Monarch's actions as head of state. Although all government and parliamentary acts are decided beforehand, the privy council is an example of symbolic gesture the King retains.
Members of the Storting are directly elected from party-lists proportional representation in nineteen plural-member constituencies in a national multi-party system. Historically, both the Norwegian Labour Party and Conservative Party have played leading political roles. In the early 21st century, the Labour Party has been in power since the 2005 election, in a Red-Green Coalition with the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party.
Since 2005, both the Conservative Party and the Progress Party have won numerous seats in the Parliament, but not sufficient in the 2009 general election to overthrow the coalition. Commentators have pointed to the poor co-operation between the opposition parties, including the Liberals and the Christian Democrats. Jens Stoltenberg, the leader of the Labour Party, continues to have the necessary majority through his multi-party alliance to continue as PM.
In national elections in September 2013, voters ended eight years of Labor rule. Two political parties, Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet, elected on promises of tax cuts, more spending on infrastructure and education, better services and stricter rules on immigration, formed a government. Coming at a time when Norway's economy is in good condition with low unemployment, the rise of the right appeared to be based on other issues. Erna Solberg became prime minister, the second female prime minister after Brundtland and the first conservative prime minister since Syse. Solberg said her win was "a historic election victory for the right-wing parties".