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.
Earlier on HuffPost:
No. 25: Spain
2012 Democracy Score: 8.02 2011 Democracy Score: 8.02 <em>Supporters of Spain's national football team are hosed down by a fireman before congratulating their team's players on their return to Madrid following their victory in Euro 2012 football championships on July 2, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)</em>
No. 24: Belgium
2012 Democracy Score: 8.05 2011 Democracy Score: 8.05 <em>A file photo taken 24 November 2006 shows people looking at an art exhibition of giant French fries during the 'Krak van de Frietzak' (French fries contest) at the Antwerp Grote Markt (market). (KRIS VAN EXEL/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 23: Japan
2012 Democracy Score: 8.08 2011 Democracy Score: 8.08 <em>Families release a paper lantern into the sky in commemoration of the victims of last year's earthquake and tsunami, on March 11, 2012 in Natori, Japan. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)</em>
No. 22: Costa Rica
2012 Democracy Score: 8.10 2011 Democracy Score: 8.10 <em>A rainbow is seen as boys play football while enjoy the beach during sunset on November 21, 2010 in Puntarenas beach in Costa Rica, some 100 kilometers from San Jose. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 21: United States Of America
2012 Democracy Score: 8.11 2011 Democracy Score: 8.11 <em>Fans wave American Flags during the seventh inning strech at the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees on September 11, 2002 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)</em>
No. 20: South Korea
2012 Democracy Score: 8.13 2011 Democracy Score: 8.06 <em>South Korean special warfare command soldiers cover themselves in snow during a winter military training exercise on January 11, 2012 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)</em>
No. 18 (Tie): Mauritius
2012 Democracy Score: 8.17 2011 Democracy Score: 8.04 <em>An aerial view of the Bernhard Langer designed 'One&Only Le Touessrok Golf Course' on the Ile Aux Cerfs Island at the One and Only Le Touessrok Resort, on January 19, 2004 in Trou d'Eau Douce, Mauritius. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)</em>
No. 18 (Tie): Uruguay
2012 Democracy Score: 8.17 2011 Democracy Score: 8.17 <em>Uruguayan 'gauchos' take part in the reenacting of 'La Redota', also known as 'The Exodus' in Paso de los Carros, San Jose Department, Uruguay, on October 23, 2011. On 1811, Uruguayan independence’s hero Jose Gervasio Artigas, decided to move north accompanied by some 16,000 soldiers, peasants and indigenous people, after learning that Spain had taken back the government of the territory that finally became Uruguay. (MIGUEL ROJO/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 17: Czech Republic
2012 Democracy Score: 8.19 2011 Democracy Score: 8.19 <em>The Moldau River flows under the Charles Bridge and past buildings in Old Town on April 12, 2009 in Prague, Czech Republic. Prague is among Europe's major tourist destinations. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)</em>
No. 16: United Kingdom
2012 Democracy Score: 8.21 2011 Democracy Score: 8.16 <em>A man walks past a puddle with the reflection of Big Ben's Clock Tower in, following A heavy downpour of rain in Westminster on July 14, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)</em>
No. 15: Malta
2012 Democracy Score: 8.28 2011 Democracy Score: 8.28 <em>Malta's loving youth kiss in front of the harbour of Valletta the capital of the Mediterranean archipelago 11 April 2003. (VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 14: Germany
2012 Democracy Score: 8.34 2011 Democracy Score: 8.34 <em>Alphorn musicians perform in front of the Bavaria monument during the Oktoberfest open-air concert at the Theresienwiese in Munich, southern Germany, on September 30, 2012. (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/GettyImages)</em>
No. 13: Ireland
2012 Democracy Score: 8.56 2011 Democracy Score: 8.56 <em>Ireland fans during the International Friendly between Republic of Ireland and Bosnia at the AVIVA Stadium on May 26, 2012 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)</em>
No. 12: Austria
2012 Democracy Score: 8.62 2011 Democracy Score: 8.49 <em>A shop assistant adjusts some display lights at one of the Mozart dedicated sweets and souvenir shops on Vienna's main shopping street Kaertner strasse, 09 December 2003. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 11: Luxembourg
2012 Democracy Score: 8.88 2011 Democracy Score: 8.88 <em>Inside the Cathedrale Notre-Dame as Luxembourg prepares for its Royal Wedding, on October 12, 2012 in Luxembourg. (Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images)</em>
No. 10: The Netherlands
2012 Democracy Score: 8.99 2011 Democracy Score: 8.99 <em>Blooming daffodils are seen in the foreground as tourists atop a windmill admire the flower exhibition at Keukenhof, Lisse, near Amsterdam, Sunday, April 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)</em>
No. 9: Finland
2012 Democracy Score: 9.06 2011 Democracy Score: 9.06 <em>Tourists walk in the Santa Claus Village near Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, on December 14, 2011. (JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 8: Canada
2012 Democracy Score: 9.08 2011 Democracy Score: 9.08 <em>Canada's goalkeeper Roberto Luongo celebrates with the national flag after defeating the U.S. in the men's gold medal Ice Hockey match at Canada Hockey Place during the Vancouver Winter Olympics in Vancouver on February 28, 2010. (LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 7: Switzerland
2012 Democracy Score: 9.09 2011 Democracy Score: 9.09 <em>A general view of Davos at dusk on January 10, 2012 in Davos, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)</em>
No. 6: Australia
2012 Democracy Score: 9.22 2011 Democracy Score: 9.22 <em>A kangaroo hops through the outback landscape June 7, 2005 near Marree, Australia. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)</em>
No. 5: New Zealand
2012 Democracy Score: 9.26 2011 Democracy Score: 9.26 <em>Middle Earth flags fly during the Hobbit Artisan Market ahead of the 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' world premiere at Waitangi Park on November 25, 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)</em>
No. 4: Denmark
2012 Democracy Score: 9.52 2011 Democracy Score: 9.52 <em>Taryn Heather of Australia in action in the Elite Women's Time Trial at the UCI Road World Championships on September 20, 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)</em>
No. 3: Iceland
2012 Democracy Score: 9.65 2011 Democracy Score: 9.65 <em>A stock image of the Blue Lagoon leisure spa in Iceland, on March 25, 2006. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
No. 2: Sweden
2012 Democracy Score: 9.73 2011 Democracy Score: 9.50 <em>A Swedish fan poses prior to the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between Sweden and France at The Olympic Stadium on June 19, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)</em>
No. 1: Norway
2012 Democracy Score: 9.93 2011 Democracy Score: 9.80 <em>People walk past the Nobel Peace center in Oslo, Norway, Sunday Dec. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)</em>