Norway's prime minister has to answer for more than his poor driving skills after it was revealed that his party paid participants in a viral video campaign.
The viral series captures Jens Stoltenberg posing as a taxi driver and picking up unsuspecting passengers throughout central Oslo, who eventually realize the true identity of the man behind the wheel. The stunt gained global traction over the weekend after the videos -- part of Stoltenberg's bid for reelection in next month's vote -- were published by Norwegian daily Verdens Gang and posted to the PM's official Facebook page, Reuters notes.
On Monday, however, VG reported that some of the passengers involved were not picked up randomly from the street, but rather chosen through a casting call. A spokesperson for Stoltenberg's Labour Party confirmed that five of the 14 passengers were in fact hired and given 500 kroner (about $85) "as a thank you."
According to Kjetil Try, who owns the public relations firm that produced the videos, the casting call was necessary for logistical and demographic purposes, guaranteeing representative diversity among the group. Furthermore, party spokesperson Pia Gulbrandsen insisted that the five hired passengers knew few details of the stunt itself -- just that it would be filmed for the Labour Party and that they would be picked up by a taxi.
"Their spontaneity was real when they realized that the driver was the prime minister," Gulbrandsen said, via the BBC.
Still, the revelations have left Stoltenberg vulnerable to criticism, with a Progress Party spokesperson stating that the public has been "cheated," the Telegraph notes.
Stoltenberg dismissed the comments as false outrage by the opposition.
"I think this is a pretty pointless way to present it," he said, according to the Telegraph. "No one who came into the taxi knew that I was the driver. And that was the whole point."
Upon releasing the videos, Stoltenberg told VG that the purpose of the ruse was to find out what citizens really think about politics -- information that could prove highly useful as the prime minister attempts to gain ground on the opposition in the run-up to the September 9 election. According to a Gallup poll published on Tuesday, Stoltenberg currently trails Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg by just three percentage points, indicating just how divided Norway's voters are.